Exclusive: NRA has shed 200 staffers this year as group faces financial crisis | US news

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After spending over $30m to help elect Donald Trump in 2016, the National Rifle Association faces a deepening financial crisis with over 200 staff layoffs and furloughs in 2020, according to three NRA sources, gun analysts and documents.

The situation is likely to hinder efforts by the gun rights group to help Trump and other Republicans win in November’s election.

The 200-plus layoffs and furloughs, which have not previously been reported and were mainly at NRA headquarters in Virginia, were spurred by declines in revenues and fundraising, heavy legal spending, political infighting, and charges of insider self-dealing under scrutiny by attorneys general in New York and Washington DC, the sources say.

“The widespread Covid layoffs and furloughs have further harmed both the NRA’s legal capacity and political influence beyond what was already a troubling deterioration,” said one NRA official who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters. The official added the outlook this year for NRA political spending was “deeply concerning.”

NRA staff learned about the furloughs, plus 20% staff pay cuts, four-day work weeks and other belt tightening, in an April email from Wayne LaPierre, the longtime top executive of the NRA, which claims it has 5 million members.

LaPierre’s email to the “NRA family” said “we have lost significant revenue” and linked the austerity moves to the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders. The email said the NRA hoped to bring back those furloughed when its finances improved.

The NRA declined to comment on the extent of the layoffs and furloughs, which sources said were continuing.

The NRA’s financial problems were palpable long before the pandemic but have increased due to a few factors, including the cancellation of a number of NRA fundraising dinners following the onset of Covid-19.

The NRA typically pulls in tens of millions of dollars yearly from Friends of NRA dinners in many states, but most were canceled after January and February, said the sources.

The NRA’s woes, say gun analysts, are expected to sharply reduce spending this year compared with the $30m the group spent on ads to help Trump win in 2016. They are also likely to mean cuts to its once formidable get out the vote operations in key states that historically provide big boosts to GOP candidates. Overall in 2016, the NRA spent close to $70m on ads and voter mobilization drives, say NRA sources.

In 2018, the NRA’s financial problems caused it to spend a relatively lackluster $9.4m on the midterm elections, and gun control groups outspent the NRA for the first time, which analysts say helped the Democrats win the House majority.

“The NRA is entering the summer and fall campaign with a series of crippling financial, legal, and political problems,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at Cortland State University in New York.

Spitzer added: “As its anemic political spending in the 2018 midterm election showed, they will not be able to match anything like the roughly $70m they spent in 2016, as they continue to be plagued by a major revenue shortfall, a fact exacerbated by the impact of the coronavirus shutdown.”

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, speaks at CPAC in February.

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, speaks at CPAC in February. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

The drop in revenues accelerated in 2019 when several large NRA donors began a drive to oust LaPierre over allegations of mismanagement and self-dealing, and to promote reforms. The website helpsavethenra.com, which is headlined “Retire LaPierre”, boasted in December that $165m in donations and planned gifts had been withheld.

The donor revolt has been spurred in part by several reports of lavish personal spending by LaPierre. The Wall Street Journal revealed last year that according to the NRA’s former ad firm Ackerman McQueen, which has been in legal battles with the NRA and LaPierre, he took about $240,000 worth of trips to Italy, Hungary, the Bahamas and other locales that were charged to the ad firm. The Journal reported that the ad firm had paid for about $200,000 in expensive suits for LaPierre, including some from a Beverly Hills boutique.

LaPierre’s yearly salary in 2018 was close to $2m.

Two Democratic attorneys general in New York and DC have reportedly been investigating whether the NRA abused its non-profit tax-exempt status in different ways such as improperly transferring funds from an NRA Foundation to the NRA.

Further, the AGs are said to be examining the allegations of self-dealing by NRA leaders, including financial transactions involving LaPierre, the NRA and the former ad firm.

If the AGs bring charges, the NRA could lose its coveted non-profit status in New York, where it has long been chartered.

The NRA’s top outside lawyer has said it is complying with the investigations but has attacked the NY AG’s “zeal” and “the investigation’s partisan purposes”.

During the pandemic, the NRA and pro-gun allies have waged successful legal battles in a number of states to make gun shops and shooting ranges “essential” businesses and circumvent stay-at-home measures.

But in mid-June, second-amendment advocates and the NRA suffered a stinging legal setback when the supreme court declined 10 petitions to review lower court rulings involving gun laws in several states, including Illinois and Massachusetts, which have banned assault weapons.

The NRA attacked the high court’s “inaction” in a statement, blasting it for allowing “so-called gun safety politicians to trample on the freedom and security of law-abiding citizens”.

Due to the pandemic, the NRA earlier this year canceled its annual meeting in Nashville, which Trump has faithfully attended since taking office to solidify his NRA ties. It is now slated to be held on 5 September in Springfield, Missouri.

At last year’s meeting was concluding, Trump in a tweet urged his NRA allies to “stop the internal infighting” amid the charges of self-dealing by its leaders and to “get back to GREATNESS. FAST.” For now, Trump’s aspirations for a speedy NRA recovery seem largely unfulfilled.

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