The Washington Post has delved deep into the finances of the National Rifle Association and uncovered a disturbing pattern of self-dealing by the organization’s board members according to a report the newspaper published today.
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The NRA — already beset with accusations that its senior executives spent its members’ dues and contributions on exorbitant perks like expensive hand-tailored custom Italian suits — apparently also showered money on nearly a quarter of its otherwise unpaid board members according to the paper’s investigation.
Among the details that The Washington Post reporters found:
“A former pro football player who serves on the National Rifle Association board was paid $400,000 by the group in recent years for public outreach and firearms training. Another board member, a writer in New Mexico, collected more than $28,000 for articles in NRA publications. Yet another board member sold ammunition from his private company to the NRA for an undisclosed sum,” the newspaper reports after reviewing tax filings, state charitable reports and NRA correspondence.
The revelations add to the pressure on the NRA to explain to its members and to state and federal tax authorities exactly how it monitored its spending and ensured that its funds were not misused.
With the powerful gun lobbying group under severe financial constraints after its fundraising has diminished — as it typically does when it’s unable to fear-monger off the back of a Democratic president whom they can accuse of trying to take away Americans’ guns — it’s now facing a revolt from its members over questions about the integrity and competence of its leadership team.
“’I will be the first person to get in your face about defending the Second Amendment, but I will not defend corruption and cronyism and fearmongering,’ said Vanessa Ross, a Philadelphia-area bakery owner and lifetime NRA member who previously worked at the Virginia headquarters managing a program for disabled shooters,” The Post writes.
The NRA’s 76 member board of directors includes gun manufacturing executives, conservative politicians, gun fans, and a group of sports and entertainment celebrities. One of those sports celebrities, basketball star Karl Malone, was not among those alleged to have received payments from the gun rights advocacy group and was “concerned” by the reports.
“If these allegations are correct and 18 board members received pay, you’re damn right I am,” he said. “If it’s correct, the members who pay their dues should be damn concerned, too.”
While state and federal regulations do not prohibit people who serve on nonprofit boards from doing business with their organizations as long as they follow proper guidelines, the IRS can penalize any nonprofit group that allows senior officials and their relatives to get recompense that goes beyond fair market value.
Tax experts asked by The Washinton Post have said that the multiplicity of payments to certain NRA directors can create potential conflicts of interest that could interfere with the board’s independent oversight of the group’s finances.
“In 25 years of working in this field, I have never seen a pattern like this,” said Douglas Varley, a Washington attorney at Caplin & Drysdale who specializes in tax-exempt organizations and reviewed the NRA’s federal and state filings from 2016 through 2018 for The Washington Post. “The volume of transactions with insiders and affiliates of insiders is really astonishing.”
While Varley says that he found no evidence of illegal activity and that the gun lobbyist disclosed the payments made in a proper fashion, the business practices raise serious questions.
“But the pattern raises a threshold question of who the organization is serving,” he said. “Is it being run for the benefit of the gun owners in the country and the public? Or is it being run as a business generating enterprise for officers and employees of the organization?” Varley asked.
For its own part, the NRA blames the fact that gun control organizations have called for a boycott against companies that do business with the group for reducing the pool of available vendors, forcing the group to look inward for services in certain instances.
“Naturally, there are occasions where the NRA engages vendors who have a connection to NRA executives, employees or board members — but only when such an association works in the best interest of the organization and its members,” said William Brewer, an outsideattorney for the NRA.
Still, with the NRA facing a $17 million budget shortfall, longterm members of the group are worried about its survival in the face of allegations of impropriety.
“The NRA cannot afford to give fodder to the public and to the media that we are anything but above board,” said Tiffany Johnson, a firearms instructor in Memphis and lifetime member. “We can’t give anybody any reason to even intimate that we have impermissible conflicts of interest, that there is self-dealing.”
Perhaps that is a sentiment that should have been communicated to senior NRA executives a few years sooner.
Hopefully, the results of the ongoing scandals at the NRA will be less effective lobbying efforts against the common-sense gun regulations that Democrats have been attempting to pass while the NRA fought them tooth and nail.
Perhaps without the NRA’s financial support, congressional representatives will finally listen to their constituents who overwhelmingly want action to prevent mass shootings at schools, houses of worship, and entertainment venues instead of to the gun lobbyists dangling campaign contributions.
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Original reporting by Beth Reinhard Katie Zezima Tom Hamburger, Carol D. Leonnig at The Washington Post.