The National Rifle Association was hit Thursday with two suspiciously-timed civil lawsuits, one seeking to dissolve the organization and the other an effort to impose new governance policies on the NRA Foundation, just 90 days before the November election.
It’s a period when the NRA traditionally needs to be at the top of its game, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit in New York Supreme Court, seeking to dissolve the 149-year-old organization, founded in 1871 and incorporated in New York State. The lawsuit may be read here.
NRA almost immediately counter-sued, according to Fox News. In that lawsuit, NRA asserts, “The New York Democratic Party seeks to harass, defund and dismantle the NRA because of what it believes and what it says. Only this Court can stop it.”
Fox News quoted NRA President Carolyn Meadows, who describe the New York lawsuit as “a baseless, premediated attack.” She questioned the timing of the lawsuit.
“You could have set your watch by it,” Meadows said in a statement. “The investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle. It’s a transparent attempt to score political points.”
James opened an investigation into NRA more than a year ago. It was a move critics have maintained was politically motivated.”
She said NRA “will not shrink from this fight – we will confront it and prevail.”
Also Thursday, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed a separate lawsuit, naming the NRA and the NRA Foundation as defendants. This legal action seeks injunctive relief “sufficient to reform the Foundation’s lack of proper independent governance and a constructive trust over Foundation funds improperly wasted on the NRA.”
The Foundation was established more than two decades ago in the District as a non-profit.
Like Meadows, others in the firearms community believe this is a carefully-timed political attack on the nation’s oldest, largest and most powerful gun rights lobbying organization.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which serves as the firearms industry trade organization, issued a statement noting that it is “troubled by the politically-driven decision of New York Attorney General Letitia James to seek to dissolve the National Rifle Association, America’s oldest civil rights organization.”
“The lawsuit filed today by Attorney General James seeks to punish the over five million members of the National Rifle Association based on mere allegations of possible wrongdoing by a few individuals,” the NSSF statement says. “NSSF is deeply concerned about the apparent political agenda to silence the strongest voice in support of the Second Amendment ahead of the election in November.
“This lawsuit, and one filed today by the District of Columbia Attorney General, should concern all Americans who cherish both the First and Second Amendments to our Constitution regardless of their views on what laws and regulations are appropriate to address the criminal misuse of firearms,” the trade organization said.
Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, provided a statement to Liberty Park Press and TheGunMag.com.
“I firmly believe that you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said of allegations contained in the civil lawsuits. “But it is also my belief that the NRA board of directors should have taken action when these allegations were first raised and preempted any action that could be taken by the New York State attorney general and the attorney general for the District of Columbia.”
SAF and NRA have collaborated on several legal actions over the years, defeating gun control legislation in San Francisco and Seattle, and forcing a halt to gun confiscations in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
“While there is no doubt both of these attorney generals are opponents of Second Amendment rights,” Gottlieb asserted, “and have an axe to grind, these are serious allegations that have not been put to bed by the leadership of the NRA over the last several years.
“Fortunately, for the gun rights movement,” he said, “the strength of the NRA is not only in its leadership but in its members (who) will not abandon the fight to protect Second Amendment rights.”
Even Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, Inc., and author of a critical memoir about his time as an NRA insider, is suspicious of the dual lawsuit timing.
“They didn’t wait until after the November election to drop this,” he said.
Feldman’s book, “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist,” was either held up as an expose, or dismissed as an attack on the organization by a former staffer, depending upon one’s perspective.
He asserted in a telephone conversation the timing of both lawsuits is political, and he blamed NRA leadership for the present situation.
The 169-page New York lawsuit contains some blistering allegations. James’ complaint accuses NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre of exploiting the organization “for his financial benefit, and the benefit of a close circle of NRA staff, board members, and vendors.”
In addition to LaPierre and the NRA, the lawsuit names former NRA Treasurer Wilson “Woody” Phillips, Chief of Staff and the Executive Vice President of Operations Joshua Powell and General Counsel John Frazer as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges that “With the assistance of Phillips, Powell and Frazer, LaPierre abused his position as a fiduciary to the NRA to obtain millions of dollars in personal benefits in the form of undisclosed, excessive compensation, which includes in-kind benefits and reimbursements from the NRA and its vendors.”
The document further alleges that “LaPierre has undertaken a series of actions to consolidate his position; to exploit that position for his personal benefit and that of his family; to continue, by use of a secret “poison pill contract,” his employment even after removal and ensuring NRA income for life; and to intimidate, punish, and expel anyone at a senior level who raised concerns about his conduct.”
In a statement quoted by the Washington Examiner, James declared, “The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets. The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law.”
James asks the court to find “that the NRA is liable to be dissolved pursuant to (New York statute) based upon the NRA’s pattern of conducting its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner, abusing its powers contrary to public policy of New York and its tax exempt status, and failing to provide for the proper administration of its trust assets and institutional funds…because directors or members in control of the NRA have looted or wasted the corporation assets, have operated the NRA solely for their personal benefit, or have otherwise acted in an illegal, oppressive or fraudulent manner.”
She asks the Court to allow dissolution of the organization, and to hold the individual defendants responsible to “make restitution and pay all penalties resulting from the breach of fiduciary duties and their misuse of charitable assets for their own benefit and interests.”
She asks the court to enjoin the defendants “from future service as an officer, director or trustee, or in any other capacity as a fiduciary of any not-for-profit or charitable organization incorporated or authorized to conduct business in the State of New York, or which solicits charitable donations in the State of New York, or which holds charitable assets in New York.”
Meanwhile, down in the District of Columbia, Racine asserts in his complaint, “In recent years, the NRA has experienced financial problems related, in large part, to low membership and the NRA’s decision to continue to waste funds on improper, lavish spending. To plug financial holes caused by its own poor management, the NRA turned to the Foundation’s funds. Because the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and executives are dominated by the NRA, and the NRA had subverted the Foundation’s independence, the Foundation has allowed itself to be financially exploited through, among other things, unfair loans and management fee payments to the NRA.
“In allowing its funds to be diverted from charitable purposes and wasted to prop up the NRA in impermissible ways,” the District complaint adds, “the Foundation Board of Trustees has failed to provide meaningful oversight and failed in its fiduciary duties. Through this enforcement action, the District seeks injunctive relief sufficient to reform the Foundation’s lack of proper independent governance and a constructive trust over Foundation funds improperly wasted on the NRA.”
No hearings have been set in either case.