Excessive spending at the National Rifle Association is “draining NRA cash at a mindboggling speed” and poses “an existential threat to the financial stability” of the gun group, according to slate of leaked documents that have spurred calls for the resignation of CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Posted anonymously online, the documents have surfaced amid an increasingly public feud among NRA leadership, the gun group’s PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, and the NRA’s outside legal firm, run by William Brewer, III. (For more context read: WTF Is Happening at the NRA, Explained.)
The leaked documents are being publicized by activists within the gun world. Firearms instructor Rob Pincus is the owner of I.C.E. Training and used to market personal-defense DVDs in partnership with the NRA. Pincus calls the leaked documents “a smoking gun” that will force the gun community to “acknowledge the problems” at the NRA.
“There’s a vast majority of the American gun ownership community that was ready to believe that all the accusations of malfeasance and irresponsibility were just ‘fake news,’” Pincus tells Rolling Stone. “No, this is real. We wish it weren’t that way. But we have to deal with that as fact. Having these documents out in public gives us the evidence.”
Printed variously on NRA and Ackerman McQueen letterhead, the documents include signatures from top officers of both groups. The NRA did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request to confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents. An Ackerman McQueen executive did not respond to an inquiry about documents bearing his signature. The Brewer law firm did not respond to questions about the accuracy of billing figures attributed to it. Wayne LaPierre did not respond to an email asking him to address specific allegations about spending he directed. The documents have been reported on as legitimate by the Daily Beast and the Wall Street Journal. Pincus says he knows the identity of the person who posted the documents and is convinced they are authentic.
Perhaps the most striking documents are memos signed by now-former NRA president Oliver North. A letter dated April 18th outlines what North describes as “excessive” billing by the Brewster law firm. He calls for an “outside independent examination” of payments to the firm, on advice of the NRA board’s lawyer. (North has been since deposed as NRA president. The NRA board lawyer has also reportedly been dismissed.)
“The Brewer invoices are draining NRA cash at a mindboggling speed,” North writes, adding that the payments to Brewer “pose an existential threat to the financial stability of the NRA.” The letter alleges that, over the previous 13 months, Brewer billed the NRA “more than $18.5 million net after reimbursements.” Payments in the first quarter of 2019 alone allegedly approached $9 million, or “$97,787 per day, seven days a week, every day of every month.” The letter adds: “$97,0000 + a day is a stunning amount of money for any organization to pay.”
Experts in the legal word say these figures are eye-popping. “I would love to have a client that I could bill $100,000 a day,” jokes Bracewell LLP partner Phil Bezanson, an expert in corporate governance. But he notes that the NRA is sure to have racked up “significant legal bills” because it has been a party to “an awful lot of litigation” recently — both suing and being sued. “I don’t know if that volume of litigation equals $100,000 a day,” Bezanson says, “but I suppose it could. It’s a lot. It’s a real lot. But law firms are expensive and litigation is expensive.”
Most prominently, the Brewer firm has represented the NRA in a legal fight with the state of New York, stemming from a decision by regulators to shut down a profitable NRA-branded insurance product that critics have maligned as “murder insurance.” That case was recently dealt a significant setback, when a federal judge ruled that the NRA had failed to prove it had been unjustly singled out for enforcement.
According to North, whose letter is cosigned by NRA First Vice President Richard Childress, the payments to Brewer created “a fiscal emergency.” The letter rebukes NRA leadership for refusing to review the law firm’s expenses or retainer agreement “to ensure these bills are necessary and reasonable.” The letter also suggests that “Mr. Brewer has personally been actively working to stop an outside, independent review of his own invoices.” The Brewer firm did not respond to this allegation, pointing instead to a statement an NRA officer made to the Daily Beast: “The memo on the Brewer firm’s legal fees is inaccurate—it reflects a misinformed view of the firm, its billings, and its advocacy for the NRA.”
A separate memo from North dated April 25th, announced the creation of a “Crisis Management Committee” that would look into the payments to Brewer and also “supervise a confidential, privileged, internal investigation” into letters from Ackerman McQueen “which suggest financial impropriety.” (The same day, LaPierre wrote a letter to the NRA board warning that North and Ackerman McQueen were trying to extort him into resigning. LaPierre underscored that North was on Ackerman McQueen’s payroll. Two days later, North announced he had been forced out as NRA president. North has not responded to repeated interview requests.)
The two Ackerman letters, dated April 22nd, appear to detail more than half a million dollars in spending beneficial to LaPierre, including nearly $275,000 in “wardrobe” purchases at a Beverly Hills boutique, and more than $250,000 in luxury travel.
The letters, bearing the name and apparent signature of Ackerman McQueen CFO William Winkler, respond to NRA audits and litigation demanding transparency from the PR firm about its spending. “During the recent audit sequence,” one letter addressed to LaPierre reads, “[w]e realized … that we need to address your wardrobe you required us to provide, specifically, purchases at the Zegna store in Beverly Hills, CA. Due to the substantial nature of the total ($274,695.03) we should address these items immediately.” An attachment to the letter appears to document purchases as far back as 2004, most recently a $21,0800 expenditure two days before Valentine’s Day in 2017.
In a separate letter, Winkler turns the tables on LaPierre after the NRA made a legal demand for documentation of “out of pocket” expenses. The letter reads: “Due to the demands in the lawsuit, we are notifying you that you have failed to provide … support for expenses related to your travel, etc. … Please be reminded that these actions were taken expressly upon your demand.”
The letter appears to document travel expenses for LaPierre to destinations including the Bahamas, Palm Beach, Budapest and Italy, the charges for which were steered through Ackerman McQueen to “keep your business travel confidential and secure,” the letter says, but ultimately “billed to the NRA.” The documents make clear LaPierre didn’t fly coach. According to the letter’s documentation, expenses for “air and limo” transportation across seven destinations totaled more than $240,000.
Separately the letter highlights an apartment rental expense near the NRA’s Fairfax, Virginia, headquarters that the Wall Street Journal has reported benefited an NRA intern. The letter to LaPierre refers to “the apartment you required we rent for the period of May 27-August 30, 2016 in Fairfax, VA for” the intern “and billed to the NRA.” The letter asks La Pierre to “please provide the business relationship with” the female intern.
The NRA did not respond to Rolling Stone questions about the documents or about its intern policies. Neither did LaPierre. In a statement provided to other news outlets, new NRA president Carolyn Meadows said, “it is troubling and pathetic that some people would resort to leaking information to advance their agendas,” adding that the “entire board is fully aware of these issues. We have full confidence in Wayne LaPierre.”
Meadows does not, in fact, speak for the entire board. Former Republican congressman and NRA board member Allen West released a statement decrying a “cabal of cronyism” in the highest ranks of the NRA and accusing Meadows of “outright lies.” Allen clarified that he does “not support Wayne LaPierre continuing as the… CEO of the NRA.”
But for those seeking deeper reform of the NRA, even toppling the longtime CEO would not be enough. “This is way bigger than Wayne LaPierre,” says Pincus, the gun activist. “Wayne LaPierre could retire tomorrow and it doesn’t change anything about the system, the strategy or the institutionalized cronyism that needs to be rebooted.”