A podium at the 2024 NRA Great American Outdoor Show
A podium at the 2024 NRA Great American Outdoor Show / Stephen Gutowski

NRA President Flew Around on Private Jets With Group’s Lawyer

The potential next head of the National Rifle Association has also taken private jets as part of his work with the gun-rights group.

NRA President Charles Cotton has flown privately with the group’s outside counsel William Brewer, multiple sources told The Reload. The pair have flown together on private jets numerous times.

“It has been ongoing for the past couple years,” a source with knowledge of the flights told The Reload. “First time I remember was early 2022.”

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. The Brewer firm, which produced a promotional video of its namesake in a private jet as part of an apparent website redesign several years ago, confirmed Cotton has joined Brewer on some private jet trips. However, they contend the private flights saved the organization money.

“Mr. Cotton has, on limited occasions, flown with our firm when convenient for business reasons,” Travis Carter, a spokesman for the firm, told The Reload. “Any arrangements actually saved the NRA money – our firm does not charge clients additional costs for private travel.”

The firm did not answer questions on how frequently the flights occurred or whether other NRA officials ever joined. Internal NRA records published by The Reload show the group spent $1.2 million on private jet companies in 2022 as part of more than $50 million in spending on vendors the group didn’t have a contract with. It’s unclear if there is any overlap between those expenses and Cotton’s flights with Brewer during the same time frame.

The news of the private jet travel could further complicate the internal fight over who will replace longtime leader Wayne LaPierre. He resigned shortly before a jury found him liable for millions of dollars in personal expenses he billed back to the NRA, primarily private flights. The sources did not allege that Cotton and Brewer’s flights were for personal reasons like many of those at the center of the LaPierre scandal, but the expensive nature of flying private could still upset NRA supporters given the shrinking resources the group is working with of late.

Half a dozen insiders said Cotton is looking to move from President to the Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer role LaPierre held for decades, and Brewer is a close ally in that push. However, NRA members just voted for a slate of reform candidates in their most recent board elections. Those new board members are opposed to Cotton, Brewer, and other members of the current leadership. Several of them told The Reload the private jet trips raised concerns the problems that have plagued the group are ongoing or reoccurring.

“I am concerned about the undue influence that has clearly manifested in the past by vendors and other contractors on our board members or officers in how they make decisions about the NRA’s charitable assets when they’re flying on these jets and everything,” Dennis Fusaro, a newly-elected NRA board member, said. “I don’t know that it saves the NRA money. I’d like to see the numbers and what the justification is.”

“If it’s true, then the question is whether Brewer is billing that back to the NRA,” Jeff Knox, another newcomer to the board, said. “With what we’ve been paying him, he should be easily able to charter flights on his own dime.”

“I plan on asking for these records to review at the annual meeting,” Rocky Marshall, a critic of leadership who is set to serve his second stint on the board, said.

Still, the reformers represent a small percentage of the NRA’s 76-member board, and it’s unclear how much pull they have with the rest of the organization. On the other hand, Brewer has spearheaded the gun-rights group’s legal efforts since at least 2019. He masterminded the organization’s failed bankruptcy filing, defense against a New York civil corruption case, Supreme Court First Amendment challenge, fights with former staff and contractors, Wayne LaPierre’s employment contract, and more. During that time, his firm received over $100 million from the group.

John Frazer, NRA General Counsel, testified in the group’s New York civil corruption trial that the Brewer firm was responsible for nearly all of the NRA’s major legal decisions over the past half-decade. He also said the firm was among the highest-paid contractors for the group during that time.

“During the period from 2018 to 2022, each and every year, the Brewer firm was one of the most highly compensated contractors for the NRA, right?” an attorney for the New York Attorney General’s office asked.

“That’s correct,” Frazer said.

“Between 2018 and 2022, the NRA reported in total paying the Brewer Firm over $100 million,” the AG’s office said. “Is that correct?”

“I haven’t sat down and added it up,” Frazer replied before saying that was probably the case.

Outside critics of current leadership have also attacked Brewer for his past political donations. In a scathing piece on the NRA’s internal turmoil, Ammoland columnist John Crump noted his past contributions to NRA opponents, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Beto O’Rourke. An anonymous blog called NRA in Danger, run by LaPierre critics and closely followed by reformers who often comment on its pieces, also pointed to the donations in a recent piece speculating on further NRA membership decline.

Federal Election Commission documents indicate William A. Brewer III, his full name, may not have given any political donations since the O’Rourke campaign. But employees at the Brewer firm have given almost exclusively to Democrats in the current cycle, though the sums have been small. Although, the firm said it was William Brewer IV, Brewer III’s son who also works at the firm, and not the elder who gave $250 to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign earlier this year.

Carter said the donations, which also include gifts to the Connecticut Republican party and Michigan Republican John James, are not new or unusual.

“It is no secret that, over the years, Mr. Brewer and the firm have supported a wide range of causes and political candidates on both sides of the aisle. The support for these candidates is reflected in the public record.”

NRA board member Fusaro said Brewer’s legal strategy in the civil case is most concerning to him. He argued current leadership has not implemented substantial internal reforms to prevent abuse of the nonprofit’s charitable funds.

“I’ve been reading some of the transcriptions of the trials, and one of the things I noticed is the argument that the Brewer attorneys are making is that, ‘okay, all these bad things happen to past, but it’s not happening now, and there’s no evidence that it’s ongoing and there’s no evidence it’s likely to happen again.’ I just have trouble with that because I don’t understand why they won’t make some serious changes,” he told The Reload. “I also don’t understand why Wayne LaPierre needed to make $1.6 million a year. Plus, I’m sure there were more benefits. You know, this is this is a nonprofit corporation. I just don’t see it.”

The NRA’s annual meeting, where the group will swear in new board members and possibly hold a vote to fill LaPierre’s role, is scheduled to happen in two weeks. The second half of the New York civil trial, which could see the judge appoint an overseer for the group or even wipe out its leadership, is set to begin in the middle of July.

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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

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