The NRA and I have something in common: We’re both really fucking bad with money. A loaded new report by the New Yorker reveals that the National Rifle Association has been hemorrhaging money for decades, wasting funds on a pricey PR firm, disastrous vanity projects, glossy magazines exclusively for wealthy donors (even though millions of small donations keep the NRA afloat), and exorbitant consultant salaries.
To understand the depths of the fuckery, you must first understand the relationship between the NRA and PR firm Ackerman McQueen. Ackerman McQueen has worked with the NRA since the late ‘70s, and the two are, as described by the New Yorker, “so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.” Many of the NRA’s biggest personalities, like spokesperson Dana Loesch and token-black-gun-activist Colion Noir (real name Collins Idehen, Jr., take that as you will), aren’t paid by the NRA, but rather by Ackerman McQueen. NRATV, NRA’s magazine America’s 1st Freedom, and the organization’s most popular ad campaigns—all are products of Ackerman McQueen.
Ackerman McQueen helped transition the NRA from a niche gun enthusiast organization to the political powerhouse it is today, but, as the New Yorker noted, they’re also responsible for the NRA’s current financial distress: “a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and vendors has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements.” In fact, tax filings from 2017 show that the NRA paid Ackerman McQueen a whopping $40 million that year alone.
The ludicrous Ackerman McQueen expenditures aren’t a new phenomenon. Back in 1996, members of the NRA board finance committee worried about mounting debts. According to meeting minutes from December of that year, members addressed concerns over an inability to “afford to spend large sums of money on Public Relations.”
While longtime NRA head Wayne LaPierre’s certainly heard call for Ackerman McQueen to get the boot, he didn’t listen (emphasis ours):
As a board member named Weldon Clark recalled, in an affidavit filed with the Federal Election Commission, LaPierre said that he would replace Ackerman with the Mercury Group, a communications firm in Washington, D.C. According to the affidavit, though, an inquiry by board members “revealed that Mercury Group, Inc. was a wholly owned subsidiary of Ackerman McQueen.”
Since then, the NRA’s finances have seemingly worsened. NRA staffers felt taunted by their Ackerman McQueen colleagues rolling up in luxury cars; Extravagant expenditures became the norm. Pet projects like “Carry Guard,”—a military-style concealed carry training program bundled with liability insurance, sardonically referred to as “murder insurance”—proved to be a legal and financial failure. Still, the NRA paid Ackerman McQueen $6 million for its work on the project.
There are bonkers accounts of elaborate and weird conflicts of interest. For example, since 2010 the NRA has paid a “corporate entity” known as Under Wild Skies $18 million. Its president is Tony Makris, also president of Ackerman McQueen subsidiary Mercury Group, and until recently the head of the NRA’s large donor program was the Under Wild Skies’ treasurer. There’s also a TV show on the Outdoor Channel called Under Wild Skies, starring Makris and Revan McQueen, son of Ackerman McQueen’s CEO. The New Yorker added that Under Wild Skies used to air on NBC Sports, until Makris “on camera, shot an elephant in the face.” Normal guys!
In the wake of the NRA spending $50 million supporting President Trump’s election campaign, the organization is in desperate need of funds. And they are desperate:
Brian Mittendorf, the chair of the accounting department at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, has analyzed eleven years’ worth of the organization’s public financial statements, starting in 2007. In seven of those years, he told me, “the N.R.A. owed more money to others than it had at its discretion to spend.” A financial audit from 2017 revealed that it had nearly reached the limit of a twenty-five-million-dollar line of credit. Additionally, it had been forced to liquidate more than two million dollars from an investment fund, borrow almost four million from its officers’ life-insurance policies, and tap another five million from its affiliated charitable foundation.
But the good times between Ackerman McQueen and the NRA have finally come to an end. On April 12, the NRA finally severed its relationship with Ackerman McQueen and is suing them for denying the NRA access to records. Additionally, NRA leadership is upset that the firm has left the organization’s future in financial limbo. Perhaps the NRA would be worthy of an ounce of sympathy if they weren’t hellbent on making guns as accessible as possible in a nation with a gun violence epidemic.
At least in the face of uncertainty, the NRA can rely on LaPierre, their fearless leader, for guidance:
According to a story that circulates among staffers, he was once dispatched to appear on a Sunday news show after a school shooting. When a producer entered the greenroom to bring him on set, LaPierre, fretting over talking points, was hiding behind a curtain, with only his wingtips visible.
NRA, please do a Money Diary.
Read the full New Yorker story here.