National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre has returned nearly $300,000 to the gun group, in repayment of illicit personal gains, according to an explosive report in the Washington Post. The Post details new tax filings, obtained from the NRA, in which the gun group reportedly admits to a “significant diversion of its assets” — including in the form of “excess benefits” paid out to LaPierre and a handful of other officers. According to the Post, that term is used by the IRS “to describe executives’ enriching themselves at the expense of a nonprofit.”
The money returned by La Pierre reportedly covers personal travel expenses from 2015 to 2019 that were billed to the gun group. The documents do not detail the specific trips in question nor when LaPierre paid the money back. Despite the eye-popping six-figure sum, a spokesperson for the NRA made clear that LaPierre’s overall travel budget was much larger, and insisted “the vast majority of Mr. LaPierre’s travel was undertaken in strict compliance with NRA policy.”
The new NRA disclosures appear to constitute a formal admission of financial mismanagement, which the gun group had denied under months of mounting pressure. In August, following a lengthy investigation, Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, filed a civil suit seeking to dissolve the organization, alleging the NRA had grown rotten from “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight.” To James’s mind, LaPierre’s repayment represents a drop in the bucket. She told the Post that the $300,000 is “just a fraction of the millions he personally profited from,” and she accused LaPierre and his deputies of having raided “NRA coffers to fund lavish lifestyles that included private jets, pricey vacations, expensive meals and no-show contracts.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that LaPierre is being investigated by the IRS for “possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes.” LaPierre declined to comment to the Post.
The NRA has been hobbled in recent years not only by James’ litigation, but by severe infighting, including a power struggle, and break-up, with its longtime PR firm, Ackerman McQueen. (Read our primer on that scandal here.) In 2019, LaPierre survived a coup attempt by then- NRA President Oliver North, the fallout from which also led LaPierre to oust the group’s top lobbyist Chris Cox, solidifying his control over the gun group.
But amid this drama, NRA has been bleeding red ink — including with a recent payout of $2.5 million to the state of New York to settle charges of marketing insurance products without a license. The NRA has long been a Goliath in Republican campaign circles, but with its financial troubles, the group’s political footprint has shrunk. In the 2020 campaign, the NRA spent only about $16 million on behalf of Donald Trump — roughly half of what it spent for Trump in four years earlier.
Rolling Stone contacted the NRA seeking the documents reported on by the Post; the gun group replied that it is only providing hard copies in the mail. We will offer a more detailed examination of this scandal upon their receipt.