NRA Directed Money to Board Members As Executives Spent Lavishly: Report

A display at the 2018 NRA convention. Photo: LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images

Amid financial and leadership crises that could threaten the future of the controversial gun-rights group, the National Rifle Association has been allocating some funds in a questionable way, according to a new report from the Washington Post. The organization, already facing scrutiny for allegations of lavish spending — including a $200,000 bill for plane travel for one month for CEO Wayne LaPierre — is at it again, routing money to a quarter of its board in the last three years.

In total, 18 members of the NRA’s 76-member board, who do not receive a director’s salary, received money from the group in exchange for their services. That includes former NFL defensive tackle Dave Butz, an ex–board member who received $400,000 from the NRA for firearms training and public outreach. Other sums sent to board members include $255,000 to a former Iowa police officer for outreach to gun collectors and fundraising; $28,000 to a writer for articles in NRA publications; and $3.1 million on ammunition and supplies purchased from a business owned by Pete Brownell, a former president of the group.

“There’s nothing nefarious about it,” Owen Mills — a board member whose firearms training facility received $11,000 from the NRA — told the Post. “The NRA buys a lot of stuff. And so it wouldn’t be unusual to do business with your board members, and all of that is open to the public process.” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam also denied that there is anything out of the ordinary with the payments, claiming that these are “small” financial relationships considering the size of the organization, which brought in a reported $412 million in revenue in 2018.

But within the context of recent leaks on the organization’s spending habits, the board payments could be interpreted as another example of how not to throw money away. To review: In May, leaked letters showed that CEO Wayne LaPierre had expensed $39,000 in clothing in a single day, $13,800 for rent for a summer intern, and $200,000 in plane tickets, in part related to a two-week trip to the Bahamas. In another released memo last month, former president Oliver North warned top NRA officials that $24 million in legal fees accrued in the last 13 months were “draining NRA cash at mind-boggling speed.” The organization, which spent more than any other outside group to help elect Trump, lost $17 million in 2017, the most recent year in which tax filings are available. Add to this the forced resignation of president Oliver North in April and an investigation launched by New York attorney general Letitia James into the NRA’s spending, an inquiry that could put the group’s nonprofit status at risk.

As gun control legislation makes progress in states like Virginia and Florida, advocates of reform may be concerned to learn that the greatest threat to the NRA could be coming from within. Because the bulk of the group’s funding comes from its 5 million members, it may be forced into accountability to protect its primary revenue source. “If these allegations are correct and 18 board members received pay, you’re damn right I am [concerned],” NRA board member and NBA hall of famer Karl Malone told the Post. “If it’s correct, the members who pay their dues should be damn concerned, too.”

NRA Money Went to Board Members Amid Financial Trouble