The National Rifle Association keeps shrinking.
Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told attendees at the gun-rights group’s most recent board meeting that the organization is down to 4.3 million members, according to multiple sources. That number is corroborated by the group’s November 2022 Financial Statement Package obtained by The Reload. That represents a downturn of more than a million members since allegations of financial impropriety were leveled against LaPierre and other members of NRA leadership in 2019. The NRA is now smaller than it has been since 2012 when internal documents show the group had 4 million members.
“Membership/Contribution Performance has continued to experience softness through 2022,” a message in a presentation prepared for the group’s finance committee in January said.
The drop in membership has driven a stark decline in the NRA’s revenue over the same period. The presentation shows revenues were down nearly $24 million, or 11 percent, between 2021 and 2022, while expenses grew by more than $11.5 million, or 5.5 percent. A $37.4 million, or 32 percent, shortfall in membership dues was behind the revenue collapse. At the same time, a $16.4 million, or 47.4 percent, overrun in legal expenses led the group to finish in the red for the year.
The financial statement shows the NRA added 282,950 new members through the first eleven months of 2022, a shortfall of over 175,000 members from what the group had projected. That left the group with a $14 million hole in their budget. The story only gets worse when looking at membership renewals, where the NRA converted nearly 165,000 fewer than expected, leading to a $17.7 million deficit. Overall, the group brought in $32.4 million less than anticipated from member dues during that time.
The membership woes came at a time when external forces presented a favorable atmosphere for NRA growth. Political non-profits tend to see an upswing during election years, and NRA membership increases are often associated with high-profile mass shootings and the gun-control pushes that follow them. The financial statement shows the combined effect of both scenarios saw NRA membership reach record levels in 2018. However, the same document shows it was substantially lower than the 6 million memberships claimed by a headline in the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine and likely lower than the “approximately 5.5 million” estimate NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam gave The Washington Post at the time.
2022 saw a midterm election that determined control of Congress under a president pursuing new gun bans and a mass shooting that motivated the first new federal gun restrictions in a generation. But, instead of a surge in new members turning to the NRA, the group experienced a tremendous downturn. Despite that, the group’s 2023 budget projection paints a rosy picture and predicts, without explanation, a $23.4M, or 21 percent, increase in membership revenue.
The group was able to cut expenses to keep up with falling revenues in 2021 but not 2022. Given how far off the group was in projecting income and expenses in 2022, there’s reason to believe the 2023 budget may underplay the risks it faces.
Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at Ohio State University who has followed the NRA’s finances for years, said the membership flop should concern the gun-rights group and its supporters.
“Perhaps most concerning for the organization is that the decline in member dues revenues was both substantial and apparently unexpected, as their member dues were well below budgets,” he told The Reload. “The end result is that not only is the organization smaller than it has been in the recent past, but it had to resort to substantial borrowing from a credit line to maintain that size.”
Rocky Marshall, a former NRA board member who unsuccessfully ran to unseat LaPierre last year, had a more blunt assessment.
“This is a blood bath, and the NRA is desperately trying to stop the blood loss,” he told The Reload. “The current financial situation is untenable and is akin to bailing a leaking boat with a spoon.”
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.
The finance committee presentation was first published by the blog NRA in Danger. The Reload independently obtained a copy of that presentation alongside a collection of other internal financial reports. This is only the second time such detailed internal budget documents have been leaked after The Reload published the group’s August 2021 financial statement package last year. The leaks, which have come from different sources, indicate how concerned many NRA insiders are about the state of the organization.
The group, which remains the largest gun-related non-profit in the world, has faced unrelenting turmoil since The New Yorker and The Trace published other leaked internal documents in 2019 outlining accusations LaPierre and others used NRA money to spend millions of dollars on lavish personal purchases with little to no oversight from the board of directors. Those purchases, often funneled through the organization’s top outside contractor Ackerman McQueen, included private jet travel, luxury vacations, and even custom suits for LaPierre and his family. The revelations led to an internal power struggle after then-president Oliver North, who Ackerman was paying to host a tv show on now-defunct NRAtv, called for an investigation into the allegations and LaPierre’s resignation.
LaPierre ultimately survived the attempted ouster, but the NRA pushed out North alongside its top lobbyist, two different treasurers, and a crop of board members who criticized leadership. Then the COVID pandemic hit, and the organization cut hundreds of positions–many of which have never been restored. The organization has also been continually dogged by a corruption lawsuit New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat and dedicated political opponent of the NRA, filed soon after news of the allegations broke. The NRA has thrown everything at the wall to try and combat the New York suit, including a failed attempt to declare bankruptcy and escape James’ jurisdiction by moving to Texas, but has primarily succeeded in racking up legal bills that account for an ever-increasing portion of the non-profit’s budget.
Still, the group remains magnitudes larger than its counterparts on either side of the issue. It continues to spend tens of millions on political activism, legal activism, and firearms safety training each year. It also supports a nationwide network of state groups, including the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association which won a landmark Supreme Court case over gun-carry rights in America last year.
But the corruption allegations have taken their toll on the group’s ability to recruit and maintain members. Mittendorf said the financial spiral caused by the membership exodus threatens the very existence of the NRA.
“If the organization’s projections of a sizable rebound in member revenues in 2023 do not materialize, the long-run risks they have faced may quickly become short-run risks of a cash shortfall,” he said. “Downsizing core operations and borrowing to make up for lost member dues can only work for so long.”