The National Rifle Association is correct about one phrase in its motto: “It’s not just about guns.” In addition to helping drive America’s gun crisis, some NRA leaders may also be fleecing their own dues-paying members. More than a dozen putatively unpaid NRA board members have gotten payouts for various business services, many seemingly amorphous but others raking in six figures.
These disclosures, reported by The Washington Post, follow continuing financial problems within the firearms-lobbying organization and a power struggle that led to the ouster of one of its highest-profile figures. Additional revelations have surfaced of lavish spending sprees by the group’s long-time chief executive, and there’s an ongoing investigation by New York officials into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
Politicians who cower before this enabler of armed mayhem in America might want to reconsider their assumption that the NRA is too omnipotent to oppose. America’s globally unique scourge of domestic gun violence cannot be laid entirely at the NRA’s feet. But it’s beyond argument that the NRA has, more than any other entity, paralyzed national politics on this topic and stood in the way of rational solutions.
With money, organizational acumen and a relentless campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering, it has effectively prevented even the most modest attempts at sane national gun control. But there are cracks in the NRA’s armor.
Last year, questions surfaced about the NRA’s use by the Kremlin as a conduit to funnel money into America’s 2016 election. There were further recriminations after Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre clashed publicly with President Oliver North. LaPierre alleged that North tried to extort him into resigning with sexual harassment allegations. The spat ended with North’s exit.
LaPierre himself was revealed to have billed the NRA for hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on foreign travel and fancy clothes. As a nonprofit organization, the NRA doesn’t pay its board members — except when it does. The Post’s examination of the NRA’s tax documents found that 18 of the group’s directors received various forms of compensation which, though apparently legal, are highly questionable. Perhaps the NRA’s 5 million dues-paying members would be interested in knowing how their money was spent:
— “Consulting” fees were paid to at least five of these “unpaid” board members, totaling more than $1.3 million.
— A lawyer on the board took in $98,000 for “speaking and outreach.”
— The company of a firearms executive formerly on the board sold more than $3 million in ammunition and supplies to the NRA Foundation, the group’s charitable arm.
Far from being a dedicated if misguided champion of gun owners’ rights, the NRA is emerging more as a den of con artists who take members’ money to enrich themselves. The fact that this is far from the worst of what this organization does isn’t an excuse.