The NRA’s membership dues and political spending has not been immune to the broader challenges faced by the leading gun-rights organization.
As with the group’s overall balance sheet, 2020 dues rebounded alongside legislative spending from 2019. However, records obtained by The Reload show, it fell significantly compared to the previous election year.
The NRA benefited from an increase of about $6.7 million in members’ dues between 2019 and 2020 but was still down more than $50 million from 2018. Similarly, the group’s 2020 spending on legislative programs, which encompass most of the group’s political spending, increased by more than $13.1 million compared to the non-election year of 2019. However, its spending fell by nearly $7 million from 2018.
The decreased political spending likely impacted how effective they were during the 2020 election. While its financial and political backing helped Donald Trump rise to the presidency in 2016 and Republicans hold the Senate in 2018, it could not help either repeat those feats in 2020. Its decision to operate at a $54 million surplus that year likely limited its spending in the elections.
The political spending and dues decline also comes after years of internal turmoil and legal troubles sparked by allegations top NRA executives, including Wayne LaPierre, funneled millions of dollars of the group’s money towards their personal expenses.
The NRA acknowledged its revenue and expenses fell during 2020, blaming the pandemic for disrupting many of its fundraising operations. However, the group said spending cuts had not “affected our programs or advocacy,” and it remained an effective advocate for gun rights across the country. It pointed to recent legislative accomplishments at the federal and state level.
“We continue to march forward doing the yeoman’s work in passing constitutional carry in half dozen states, and other meaningful legislation including Emergency Powers bills in six states,” the NRA told The Reload. “No Duty To Retreat bills in three states, and Gun Free Zone bills in two states. That’s in addition to fighting onerous gun control restrictions.”
The 2020 consolidated report handed out at the group’s meeting of members earlier this month directly compares to the 2018 report The Reload obtained at the 2019 meeting. It incorporates all of the spending and expenses for the seven entities that make up the broader NRA. The Reload has not been able to obtain the consolidated report for 2016.
Since fundraising and spending by political advocacy groups tend to rise and fall alongside political election cycles, it is generally better to compare the financials of groups during similar election years. Activity tends to be slowest in non-election years, ramp up during the midterm elections, and top out during presidential elections.
While the group’s consolidated filings are not archived online, tax filings for the Nation Rifle Association of America, the 501c4 member organization responsible for most of the group’s political spending, are available going back years. Those filings include some, though not all, of the group’s revenue and expenses. A comparison of the consolidated financials to the individual filings of the membership organization can provide some level of insight.
The NRA’s membership organization alone spent about $113.8 million or about 27.5 percent, more overall in 2016 than it did even when combined with the six other NRA entities in 2020. Political spending, in particular, fell by more than $33.6 million or 40 percent.
Still, the group remained the top spender on either side of the gun debate in 2020. And, it said it is still having an impact across the board.
“NRA continues to move the ball forward in multiple venues: legislative, regulatory, operational, and legal,” the group said. “Those are critically important – to protect the interests of our members and their freedoms.”
With legal fees growing and revenue falling, the ability of the nation’s leading gun-rights group to influence the upcoming 2022 midterm elections and 2024 presidential elections will garner a great deal of interest across the political spectrum.