Last March, Wayne LaPierre sent a fund-raising letter to his members—an urgent plea for money. LaPierre described an attack on the Second Amendment that is unprecedented in the history of the country. But, in reality, what is endangering the N.R.A. isn’t constitutional law; it’s destructive business relationships that have damaged the organization financially, and have put it in legal jeopardy.
Searching through N.R.A. tax forms, charity records, contracts, and internal communications, the reporter Mike Spies discovered that “a small group of N.R.A executives, contractors, and venders have extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, enriching themselves in the process.” While the organization is quick to lay blame on its political opponents, Spies says, it’s its questionable financial practices that have weakened it from the inside.
Central to the story of the N.R.A’s financial problems is an Oklahoma-based P.R. firm called Ackerman McQueen. Ack-Mac didn’t just write press releases: for decades, it has steered the N.R.A.’s imaging on all platforms, and its executives routinely took positions within the N.R.A. In 2017, the N.R.A. paid Ackerman and affiliates almost forty-one million dollars, which totalled about twelve per cent of the N.R.A.’s total expenses that year. Ostensibly just a contractor, Ackerman influenced N.R.A. decision-making from inside, and the for-profit company seems to have used the nonprofit company as a vast source of funds to enrich itself.
Spies interviewed Aaron Davis, who worked in the N.R.A.’s fund-raising operation for a decade. “I think there is an inherent conflict of interest,” Davis says. “And it just doesn’t seem like N.R.A. leadership is all that concerned about this.”
(After this interview took place, the N.R.A. sued Ackerman McQueen, claiming that the contractor had hidden important documentation from it that detailed the business relationships.)