NRA and Divergent Thoughts

There are conflicted accounts on how well or how bad things are in the National Rifle Association.

Those that want it’s demise cheer at the ambiguity, infighting and mess it has become accustomed to.  I am connected to those inside and those that used to be.  Where do we go from here?  Here are two post I hijacked from articles sent to me.  One was sent to me from former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman and the second one is from one of the list I am on ala Jeff Knox.

 

N.R.A. Sues Contractor Behind NRATV

It’s the N.R.A. versus NRATV.

The National Rifle Association sued one of its largest and most enduring contractors late last week and raised concerns about the contractor’s relationship to the association’s own president, Oliver North, in a stunning breach within the normally buttoned-up organization.

The suit was filed late Friday by the N.R.A. in Virginia, where it is based, against Ackerman McQueen, the Oklahoma ad firm that operates NRATV, the group’s incendiary online media arm. The suit asserts that Ackerman has concealed details from the N.R.A. about how the company is spending the roughly $40 million that it and its affiliates receive annually from the association.

The suit creates uncertainty about Mr. North’s future at the organization. And it leaves the future of NRATV in doubt, given the new acrimony in the Ackerman relationship.

Since Ackerman created NRATV in 2016, it has often been “perceived by the public as the voice of the N.R.A.,” according to the rifle association’s complaint. It has also taken on an apocalyptic tone, warning of race wars, calling for a march on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and portraying the talking trains in the children’s show “Thomas & Friends” in Ku Klux Klan hoods.

The New York Times reported this year that two prominent N.R.A. board members were among those voicing alarm inside the association that NRATV was often straying beyond gun rights. The Times article also revealed that Ackerman had a previously undisclosed financial relationship with Mr. North.

The association is untangling broader problems as well, including a legal fight in New York with the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over an insurance program the N.R.A. offers to gun owners. The new state attorney general, Letitia James, has also repeatedly threatened to investigate the tax-exempt status of the organization, which was incorporated in New York.

Facing this regulatory backdrop, the association began a review of its financial relationships with hundreds of vendors in August to ensure that it was in compliance with best practices.

The N.R.A. complaint alleges that Ackerman refused to turn over a number of financial records, including those detailing out-of-pocket expenses “that lacked meaningful documentation of N.R.A. approvals, receipts or other support.” The association also wants documents that it says could allay its concern that it was being invoiced for the full salaries of Ackerman employees who also did work for other Ackerman clients. In addition, the complaint alleges that Ackerman has refused to provide data about NRATV’s unique visitors and various other performance measures.

“The N.R.A.’s patience has run out,” the suit says.

Ackerman, in a statement, sharply disputed the contentions in the lawsuit, whose filing was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“During a three-week review, an N.R.A. forensic auditing firm received every single piece of information they [the N.R.A.] requested,” the statement said. “Further, the N.R.A. has had consistent access to any and all documents regarding NRATV analytics. Despite the representation set forth in their lawsuit, the N.R.A. had the personnel contract they claim AM withheld last week before they filed their lawsuit.”

The complaint details a peculiar standoff with Ackerman over Mr. North, who took over as president last year. The N.R.A. claims it was aware that Mr. North had a contract to act as the host of a web series for Ackerman, but that Ackerman has refused to provide a copy of the contract for nearly six months. Additionally, Mr. North’s counsel told the N.R.A. that “he could only disclose a copy of the contract” if Ackerman said he could, the suit says.

Subsequently, Ackerman allowed the N.R.A.’s general counsel to view the contract but not keep a copy; the viewing added to N.R.A. concerns that it had not previously received an accurate summary of the document. The association was also concerned that Mr. North’s relationship to Ackerman could “supersede his duties to the N.R.A.”

A standoff persists over additional details about the relationship, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit is further complicated by family ties. The N.R.A.’s outside lawyer, William A. Brewer III, is the son-in-law of Angus McQueen, a co-chief executive of Ackerman, and the brother-in-law of Revan McQueen, its chief executive. Ackerman called the relationships an “irreconcilable conflict of interest” and said some kind of family dispute “pervades the Brewer firm’s dealings with Ackerman McQueen.”

Travis Carter, a spokesman for Mr. Brewer’s law firm, said “the familial relationship” had “no bearing whatsoever on the N.R.A.’s litigation strategy.” He added, “Any suggestion to the contrary is contrived and a red herring.”

The suit culminates the fracturing of a more than three-decade relationship between Ackerman and the N.R.A., going back to the shaping of such memorable lines as Charlton Heston’s proclaiming that his gun would have to be pried “from my cold, dead hands.” Wayne LaPierre, the longtime chief executive of the N.R.A., had previously been a steadfast champion of the Ackerman relationship.

“I think it says something about Wayne’s character, even though he’s had a long-term working business relationship with a vendor, he’s willing to do what is right and necessary for the N.R.A. and its members,” said Todd Rathner, a board member of the rifle association.

Joel Friedman, another board member, said he was dismayed that the documents had not been turned over.

“It leaves you questioning, and you can come up with all these potential different scenarios as to why, but none of them are good,” he said.

“My mind goes to: Are they overcharging us? That’s one,” he added. “Two, are there things charged to us that were not part of the contract? Then, No. 3, has there been a misallocation of personnel?”

Can you spell “FOOD FIGHT”?

And now from Jeff Knox

Practical Steps Toward Improving the NRA

(February 5, 2019) Over the years, I have often been pretty critical of the NRA and its leadership team. Even though I try to make a point of expressing my support for the organization and its mission, there are always some who see my criticism as an attack, and an attempt to tear down the organization. In this column, rather than simply pointing at the flaws and failures of the association, I want to address some practical and reasonable solutions and expectations.

It is unreasonable and unrealistic to think that a 147-year old, $300 million plus, per year organization, with an elected board of 76 deeply entrenched directors, would or could suddenly shift course and completely revamp the way they do business. Even the famous Cincinnati Revolt in 1977, which was a ground-shaking event, only resulted in only minor changes in the long-term operations of the organization – and years of wrangling for power and control. Another result of the Cincinnati Revolt, was the inevitable restructuring of the rules to make sure that nothing like it could ever happen again. That started with the revolutionaries, putting up defenses against a counter-revolution, and then was continued by the “Old Guard” as they slowly regained power. Today, virtually all of the reforms of Cincinnati have been reversed or modified beyond recognition.

So, with all of the problems that the NRA is currently facing: A $30 million deficit, declining revenue and membership numbers, legal assaults and much frustration over their Carry Guard insurance and training program, accusations of illegal campaign spending, and suggestions of improper dealings with Russian agents, and a large segment of the membership upset over what they see as capitulation on core issues… What would be realistic expectations for reforms at NRA?

To begin with, the Board of Directors needs to establish very clear guidance to the Executive Vice President and staff to ensure that every communication, every policy, every strategy, and anything else that comes out of the organization is consistent with the core values and principles of the association and the Second Amendment. This should be backed up by an oversight subcommittee of the Board, composed of Second Amendment purists who will always place principles over politics. Too often, it seems that the political operatives are driving the boat, leaving principles behind in the name of pragmatism. Closer oversight from some purists on the Board would go a long way toward solving this problem.

Next, the Board must review the audit processes that should be in place to ensure full compliance with all state and federal fundraising and political spending laws and regulations. Everyone at NRA should be very aware that everything they do will be scrutinized by regulators, reporters, and political operatives looking for any irregularity or impropriety. With that awareness, it is totally inexcusable that there should be even the slightest hint or appearance of the organization straying from the straight and narrow. We know that accusations will always be thrown at us, so we must be sure that we are absolutely scrupulous and beyond reproach in all of our dealings.

Stories that the NRA accepted large donations from Russian citizens, and then used that money to support a presidential candidate, should be easy to refute. Accusations that the NRA used the same political advertising agencies as candidates they supported – suggesting that they were coordinating independent expenditures with those campaigns – should never even come up, and if they did, NRA should be able to very quickly disprove such accusations, but so far, they have refused to even answer any questions about the matter.

The roll-out of a major new program like NRA Carry Guard should be preceded by thorough examination of the insurance and solicitation laws of every state, to ensure that there would be no conflicts or compliance issues, but that apparently didn’t happen with Carry Guard. There should also have been in-depth discussion with the Training Division and the Board committee that oversees training, along with key training counselors around the country, before such a major training initiative was introduced, but again, that apparently didn’t happen. This has resulted in fines and lawsuits from Insurance Commissioners in several states, and confusion and anger among NRA Instructors. Where was the due diligence that would have avoided these problems? The Board must institute policies and procedures to make sure such mistakes and “bad optics” don’t recur, and those responsible for the blunders must be held accountable.

Next, the Board needs to review all vendor agreements, eliminate any unnecessary programs, and begin transitioning as much as possible back in-house. Currently, the NRA pays over $40 million a year to one PR and Advertising company. They also pay a telemarketing firm something in the neighborhood of $30 million a year, and they list four separate companies just to “advise” them on fundraising, at a total of over $3 million per year – just for advice!

Then there is the issue of executive compensation. While it is not unusual for executives in some major non-profit corporations – such as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts or the Guggenheim Museum – to receive compensation in excess of $1 million dollars per year, these are typically professional executives who could earn such compensation at any number of similar organizations, and are funded by wealthy patrons and huge endowments. Such is not the case with Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox. They rose to their current positions via internal political maneuvering and being in the right place at the right time. Both would be hard-pressed to find employment in the $200 to $300k range as senior lobbyists in a DC firm, and wouldn’t even be considered for any sort of senior management positions.

The Board should review all executive compensation packages and bring them down to more reasonable levels. NRA executives should not be expected to work for free, but it is simply not right to be paying LaPierre almost a million and a half dollars per year while begging hard-working NRA members for $20 contributions.

The steps suggested here are not dramatic. They would not jeopardize the stability of the organization or damage its political clout in any way, nor would they be costly or difficult. On the contrary, these steps would stabilize the NRA, refocus it on its core missions, establish proper and long-lacking Board oversight of operations, save money, reduce costly mistakes, and restore the faith of members and former members in the NRA’s mission and leadership. These are all things that the NRA Board should have been doing all along, and needs to do now.

But instead of taking these reasonable, rational steps to improve and strengthen the NRA, scuttlebutt inside the organization suggests that the leadership is going to try to “solve” the problems by creating a for-profit entity, out from under the NRA non-profit umbrella and less accessible to the prying eyes of government regulators, nosy reporters, and “disgruntled members” like me. In other words, rather than fixing the problems, they are going to try and hide them from view.

Let’s hope the rumors aren’t true, and that the NRA Board of Directors has the will and integrity to do what needs to be done.

What do you think?

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