The National Rifle Association booth at SHOT Show 2024
The National Rifle Association booth at SHOT Show 2024 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: The NRA in Limbo

A jury just ruled against the NRA in its corruption case, but it could be months before the final repercussions are handed down.

On Friday, six jurors returned to the Manhattan courtroom they’d called home for the previous seven weeks and entered their verdict in the civil case against the gun group and its leadership. It found the NRA did not properly safeguard its charitable assets and protect whistle-blowers. It determined longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre was liable for $5.4 million in damages and longtime Treasurer Woody Phillips was responsible for $2 million.

Those findings leave the defendants open to a number of punishments. LaPierre and Phillips could be barred from working at the NRA and forced to pay the group those millions. The organization could be forced into a series of internal reforms.

That’s exactly what New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.) wants.

After the verdict came down, she released a statement outlining the remedies she plans to seek from Judge Joel Cohen in the next phase of the case. She’s aiming to have the money repaid to the NRA. But, more significantly, she’s asking for two different overseers to be installed and report back to the court about the group’s spending and administration.

That could lead to a complete overhaul of the group’s leadership and bylaws.

“For years, Wayne LaPierre used charitable dollars to fund his lavish lifestyle, spending millions on luxury travel, expensive clothes, insider contracts, and other perks for himself and his family,” she said in a statement. “LaPierre and senior leaders at the NRA blatantly abused their positions and broke the law. But today, after years of rampant corruption and self-dealing, Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are finally being held accountable.”

This is, as you might imagine, the exact opposite of what the current NRA leadership wants. They argued James, who once called the group a “terrorist organization,” was politically motivated in her prosecution. And they noted Judge Cohen dismissed not only her attempt to dissolve the organization but also a swath of charges she’d brought. They also highlighted that the jury ultimately gave the green light to most of the related-party transactions at issue in the case and didn’t recommend the NRA pay any restitution as an organization.

Still, the current leadership, filled with longtime LaPierre allies, did their best to look past the bulk of the jury’s verdict and toward the next trial phase.

“We appreciate the service of the jury and the opportunity to present evidence about the positive direction of the NRA today,” NRA President Cotton said in a statement. “NRA members should be heartened by the NRA’s commitment to best practices, and we will continue to amplify our compliance record in the pivotal next phase of these proceedings.”

Judge Cohen will decide between these competing views based on the jury’s findings. If he sides with the AG, the NRA’s old guard will likely be wiped away. If not, the NRA leadership’s reaction to the verdict makes it very clear they don’t plan to change course.

Changing leadership and course as quickly as possible appears to have made a significant difference in whether major charities have been able to orchestrate turnarounds in the wake of spending scandals. But, even without a new direction, the NRA would undoubtedly benefit from getting out from under its storm clouds. Just moving on from all of this, win or lose, would allow them to refocus their efforts elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the second phase of the trial may not begin for quite a while. After the verdict, Judge Cohen said the next time he has room in his schedule for another multi-week trial isn’t until July. So, things probably won’t be finalized until August.

The NRA will be stuck in a state of limbo for about the next six months.

The group is lagging well behind pace in fundraising headed into the 2024 election. It needs to nearly triple its haul to reach 2020 spending levels and more than quadruple it to get back to 2016.

Replacing LaPierre as the head and face of the organization will probably be paramount in that effort. But it’s very hard to imagine anyone from outside the NRA taking that role until the legal situation is figured out.

The same is probably true for donors. Perhaps they can regain the trust and confidence of their former donors or bring in a substantial number of new ones after the ordeal is over. But it’s hard to see that happening amid a months-long legal haze.

So, we know the jury’s verdict now. But the NRA’s future is unresolved, and that won’t be changing very soon.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Comments From Reload Members

One Response

  1. Yes, L. James was probably politically motivated in this prosecution, but LaPierre, et al, brought it on themselves. Basically, it boils down to the idea that if you insist on putting your ass in a meatgrinder, don’t be too surprised if someone steps up and turns the handle.

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