A prominent member of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Board of Directors shamed Wayne LaPierre and the group’s current President in a letter sent this week.
Owen “Buz” Mills, owner of the Gunsite Academy in Arizona and longtime NRA board member, wrote to his colleagues on Wednesday decrying the state of the organization and plans to keep people he views as responsible for its decline in place. In the letter obtained by The Reload, he told the Board it needed to change how it governs the group because of the numerous admissions of wrongdoing by its top officials in the New York corruption case that began last week.
“The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is at a watershed moment in its 153rd year,” Mills wrote. “Our leadership has admitted in courts and depositions to misappropriation of donor’s funds and unauthorized use of assets. They have admitted condoning the misuse of donor funds by others employed by the NRA. The leadership has for years abused their position and trust placed in them by our members and benefactors. The Board of Directors (BOD) is solely responsible for this victimization of the members.”
The letter comes as the American institution faces potentially severe legal repercussions over decades of alleged financial maleficence by current and former officials, including Executive Vice President (EVP) Wayne LaPierre. He and others have been accused of diverting tens of millions of dollars in NRA money toward lavish personal expenses and cushy business deals with friends and families. LaPierre and the other named defendants could be forced to pay the NRA back any money they diverted to themselves. However, the NRA could also be forced to operate under a court-appointed overseer if the judge determines it still lacks the internal control necessary to avoid future mismanagement.
To that end, LaPierre’s recently announced resignation and the Board’s plan to replace him could significantly impact the judge’s decision-making. LaPierre’s leading confidants have been placed in positions to maintain control of the organization after he leaves. Former NRA spokesman and longtime LaPierre confidant Andrew Arulanandam was appointed head of General Operations last month, putting him in line to become the interim EVP. Additionally, the group’s bylaws were amended to give Charles Cotton, who chaired the audit committee that approved–even sometimes retroactively–many of LaPierre’s expenses at issue in the case, an extra term as NRA President.
Now, some insiders are raising concerns about where things are headed. A second NRA Board Member, who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the internal fight over the group’s direction, told The Reload there was some concern about how the process for picking LaPierre’s replacement is unfolding. They said it was odd that no action had been taken at the group’s January board meeting in planning for a new EVP.
“Cotton didn’t call back the Executive Session,” the board member said. “He did not put together a committee. He didn’t put together a committee to put together a committee. Nothing.”
The board member also noted a recent change to the bylaws to allow for virtual board meetings. They said Cotton had made a comment during the most recent board meeting alluding to the potential of appointing a
“There’s speculation that there is going to be a virtual meeting to call for Cotton to be the EVP for two years,” they said. “Then Bob Barr would head up a committee to find a long-term replacement. I believe Cotton is going to call for a virtual meeting before the end of the trial. I believe we’re saving SHOT show next week, we get a call.”
Mills has heard similar rumors.
“There appears to be an effort to anoint Cotton EVP,” he told The Reload.
In his letter, Mills slammed the idea. He said Cotton should not be EVP, and the NRA should use a more formal hiring process before deciding on its next leader.
“The selected leadership wants a special election to install the enabler and facilitator of all the previous chicanery,” he wrote. “None other than our duly selected President, he is the man more responsible than any other for permitting our selected leadership to rampantly run roughshod over our membership and benefactors. As the chair of the Audit Committee for many years, Charles Cotton was responsible for holding our employees accountable and ensuring their conduct beyond reproach. Our chair and ‘moral compass’ approved every single act of malfeasance brought to the committee for decades, multiple acts approved retroactively, months and years after the fact.”
He accused Cotton, who he labeled “the facilitator,” of providing LaPierre, who he labeled “the miscreant,” with a special bonus to cover the nearly million dollars that LaPierre was forced to refund to the NRA for private flights and other expenses the organization classified as “excess benefits.”
“When restitution was mandated, a bonus was awarded the miscreants including enough money to pay the restitution,” Mills wrote. “This bonus also included enough for the miscreant to have the cash to pay the taxes on his misappropriation. Talk about rewarding bad behavior!! Again, I emphasize, it was not miscreant’s money, and it was not the facilitator’s money! It was the MONEY OF OUR MEMBERS and the MONEY provided by the BENEVOLENCE OF OUR DONORS.”
“There is something deeply wrong when you continually permit and encourage this serial abuse,” he said.
The NRA disputed some of the accusations included in the Mills letter.
“In many sections of the letter, it is not even clear to whom Mr. Mills is referring,” Billy McLaughlin, an NRA spokesman, told The Reload. “If he’s referring to Mr. LaPierre, the allegation is unfounded. Indeed, his compensation is reported every year in federal tax filings and is a matter of public record. In any event, the NRA strictly complies with its Bylaws and other internal policies and procedures. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false.”
The NRA’s tax reports show that LaPierre’s total compensation rose by nearly $800,000 between 2017 and 2018, peaking at nearly $2.25 million. It dropped back down to just under $1.9 million in 2019, the year the NRA reported LaPierre had paid them back for nearly $300,000 in excess benefits. His compensation has continued to decline since that time and stood at under $1.2 million in the group’s 2022 tax filing.
Charles Cotton did not respond to a request for comment.
Mills further attacked any effort to make Cotton the EVP without a formal vetting process. He said appointing Cotton using other means would be akin to the NRA’s failed bankruptcy filing, which was undertaken before informing the Board or getting their approval (though, they did retroactively approve the move).
“Is the principal facilitator of the misappropriation of tens of millions of dollars (members and donors’ money) causing the hundreds of millions of dollars of legal fees (again members and donors’ money) really have any business with access to the treasury? Does he have any right to represent any moral, honest person or organization?” he asked in reference to Cotton. “NO!”
Instead, he advocated for a search process that would include a recruiting and interview process involving the entire NRA Board. He said the same should be done to “hire a celebrity ‘FACE’ of the NRA as a spokesperson with no access to funds.”
“This is how a professional Board of Directors of a world class not-for-profit begins to heal itself,” he wrote.
He argued this was the Board’s chance to reform and renew the organization in hopes of convincing the millions of members who’ve abandoned the group since the corruption allegations surfaced to come back. He wrote the EVP pick and the process used to make it is ultimately an “opportunity to recover the trust” and “respect” of “our most benevolent donors,” “our industry,” and the “American people.”
“The main point is the NRA is presented herewith the opportunity to rectify our sins of the past, to redeem ourselves,” he told The Reload. “Don’t mess it up.”
UPDATE 1-18-2024 4:29 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to include comment from the NRA.