(Bloomberg) — The National Rifle Association’s revenue is continuing to slide as record legal bills consume a growing share of its budget.
The gun-rights group generated $139.7 million in the first eight months of the year, an internal NRA document reviewed by Bloomberg shows. During the same time period, the NRA’s office of the general counsel spent more than $40 million, the documents showed. The organization’s annual revenue is on track to be the lowest in more than a decade as legal costs for 2022 approach $60 million, set to exceed previous records.
One of the reasons for the decline was lagging memberships, which make up the largest source of income and fell far short of what the organization expected, the document shows. The NRA’s revenue has been declining from its 2016 peak of $367 million and the legal expenses have increased since reports of abusive spending surfaced in 2019.
The fresh look at the organization’s finances comes as it defends itself against a New York probe of its financial practices. New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued the nonprofit and its leaders for alleged mismanagement and self-dealing, which the NRA denies.
Andrew Arulanandam, managing director of NRA Public Affairs, said it would be inaccurate to compare the NRA’s partial-year figures with results from previous full years because it “ignores the cyclical nature of the Association’s business, and fails to account for current activity in fundraising, membership and NRA events.”
The NRA’s legal costs are “an investment in the Association and its fight for survival,” Arulanandam said in an email, adding that the legal spending aims to defend the association and their constitutional freedoms.
NRA membership income reached $79.7 million this year through August, well short of the $110.7 million it budgeted for the period, the internal document shows. While the total by year end may top the $97 million collected in 2021, it will likely be down from $120 million in 2020.
Revenue from the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying arm, was also well behind budget in the eight months through August.
Despite its revenue decline, the NRA has remained a significant presence in US elections.
During the 2022 mid-term election cycle, NRA affiliates have spent about $10.1 million to support Republicans or to oppose Democrats, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets, a nonprofit formerly known as the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s well below the $30 million deployed during the 2020 presidential election cycle, though on par with the group’s 2018 mid-term spending.
“The NRA’s political arms are still inserting themselves in political races,” says Anna Massoglia, editorial and investigations manager at OpenSecrets. “It’s not on the level it was in 2016, but we’re seeing it in toss-up senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada.”
At its peak, the NRA put $56 million into the 2016 election cycle and was the largest contributor to Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, government data compiled by Open Secrets show.
“The NRA continues to invest in key issues and candidates that support the Second Amendment,” Arulanandam said. “As one example, the NRA’s efforts have led to constitutional carry being adopted in 25 states.”
New York Lawsuit
The NRA’s finances and reputation as a defender of the Second Amendment and conservative political causes has been battered since 2019, when reports surfaced that it had used millions of dollars to fund lavish lifestyles for its top executives. James sued the NRA, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and three other officials the following year.
The NRA and the individual defendants, two of whom have left the group, will face James’s allegations in New York state court in coming months. The judge overseeing the case has rejected a James proposal to resolve a ruling in her favor by dissolving the NRA and redistributing its assets.
The NRA has compensated for its falling revenues and rising legal costs by squeezing spending on core member programs and significant staff cuts, according to the internal document.
Some of the cuts were tied to the global pandemic, which impacted NRA events and public programs, Arulanandam said.
“Even as it voluntarily cancelled countless events due to safety protocols, the NRA emerged from this health crisis a focused and determined organization,” Arulanandam said.
The NRA’s total expenses of $288.3 million last year fell from $241.7 million in 2020 and were down 45% from their 2016 peak, a 2021 financial statement shows.
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