Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Ugly: Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the N.R.A.

leave a comment »

Mike Spies writes in the New Yorker:

This winter, members of the National Rifle Association—elk hunters in Montana, skeet shooters in upstate New York, concealed-carry enthusiasts in Jacksonville—might have noticed a desperate tone in the organization’s fund-raising efforts. In a letter from early March, Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s top executive, warned that liberal regulators were threatening to destroy the organization. “We’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the N.R.A. but in the entire history of our country,” he wrote. “The Second Amendment cannot survive without the N.R.A., and the N.R.A. cannot survive without your help right now.”

LaPierre is right that the N.R.A. is troubled; in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars. It is not unusual for nonprofits to ask prospective donors to help forestall disaster. What is unusual is the extent to which such warnings have become the central activity of the N.R.A. Even as the association has reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, it has substantially increased its spending on messaging. The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.

On NRATV, the organization’s programming network, the popular host Grant Stinchfield might appear in a “Socialist Tears” T-shirt, taking a sledgehammer to a television set cycling through liberal news shows. The platform’s Twitter account circulates videos of the spokesperson Dana Loesch, a former Breitbart News editor who has said that mainstream journalists are “the rat bastards of the earth” and deserve to be “curb-stomped.” Over menacing images of masked rioters, she asserts that the only way to stop the left is to “fight its violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” A lawyer and activist called Colion Noir, whose real name is Collins Idehen, Jr., also has a large following. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Noir appeared in a video chiding “all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else’s Second Amendment.”

Loesch and Noir have become the primary public faces of the N.R.A.; at events, enormous banners feature their images alongside those of LaPierre and Chris Cox, the organization’s top lobbyist. But Loesch and Noir are not technically employed by the N.R.A. Instead, they are paid by Ackerman McQueen, a public-relations firm based in Oklahoma. In at least one year, Loesch earned close to a million dollars, according to a source who has seen her contract.

For more than three decades, Ackerman has shaped the N.R.A.’s public identity, helping to build it from a niche activist organization into a ubiquitous presence in American popular culture. Ackerman produces the N.R.A. magazine America’s 1st Freedom and has devised its most successful ad campaigns, including one called “I’m the N.R.A.,” for which it recruited gun owners, including the actor Tom Selleck and the basketball star Karl Malone, to pose with their weapons. More recently, Ackerman produced a series called “Freedom’s Safest Place,” in which conservative icons inveigh against liberals and terrorists. In a segment from 2016, the country-music star Charlie Daniels warns the “ayatollahs of Iran” that they may be acquainted with “our fresh-faced flower-child President,” but they “haven’t met the heartland—or the people who will defend this nation with their bloody, calloused bare hands.”

The N.R.A. and Ackerman have become so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Top officials and staff move freely between the two organizations; Oliver North, the former Iran-Contra operative, who now serves as the N.R.A.’s president, is paid roughly a million dollars a year through Ackerman, according to two N.R.A. sources. But this relationship, which in many ways has built the contemporary N.R.A., seems also to be largely responsible for the N.R.A.’s dire financial state. According to interviews and to documents that I obtained—federal tax forms, charity records, contracts, corporate filings, and internal communications—a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements. Memos created by a senior N.R.A. employee describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed, whose leaders have encouraged disastrous business ventures and questionable partnerships, and have marginalized those who object. “Management has subordinated its judgment to the vendors,” the documents allege. “Trust in the top has eroded.”

In response to a description of my reporting, Bill Brewer, a lawyer who represents the N.R.A., said that the organization “has serious concerns about the accuracy of this reporting and The New Yorker’s sources. Of course, we cannot comment on privileged communications or personnel matters.”

Marc Owens, who served for ten years as the head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, recently reviewed these records. “The litany of red flags is just extraordinary,” he said. “The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain venders and people in control.” Owens added, “Those facts, if confirmed, could lead to the revocation of the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status”—without which the organization could likely not survive.

In its early days, the N.R.A. was more interested in shooting than in politics. It was founded by two former Union Army officers, who returned from the Civil War dismayed at having been outshot by their Confederate counterparts and hoping to inspire a culture of marksmanship in the North. For more than a century, the N.R.A.’s primary concerns were hunting, firearms education, and gun safety. Then, in 1977, a decade after the Federal Gun Control Act restricted firearms sales, activist board members seized control of the group and transformed it into an advocacy organization for gun owners’ rights. Officials knew that this new mission would require a more sophisticated approach to public relations. An N.R.A. executive suggested hiring Ackerman McQueen, which was run by a personal friend.

Later that year, Wayne LaPierre began working for the N.R.A., as a lobbyist. LaPierre, a former Democratic legislative aide with little experience handling guns, was not obviously suited to a role as a firebrand. People who have spent time around him describe him as “mild,” “reserved,” “awkward,” and even “meek.” Still, he rose through the organization, and he built a close relationship with Ackerman. In a deposition concerning a federal-election case, the firm’s then C.E.O., Angus McQueen, said, “I speak to Wayne almost every day. There are exceptions, because I take vacations and he takes vacations. Although he has no reluctance to interrupt mine.”

In 1991, LaPierre became executive vice-president, the N.R.A.’s top position. He is, by many accounts, reticent about public appearances. According to a story that circulates among staffers, he was once dispatched to appear on a Sunday news show after a school shooting. When a producer entered the greenroom to bring him on set, LaPierre, fretting over talking points, was hiding behind a curtain, with only his wingtips visible. Nonetheless, he appears in videos and makes speeches, often choreographed by Ackerman, that present him as a ferocious critic of the political left. At the N.R.A.’s annual meetings, he disparages “élites” who “long to turn America into some European-style socialist state.” Last year, he told the crowd, “We’re standing at the edge of fear, staring into the abyss of the demise of our country and its freedom we care about most.” He added, “This coming election is a guarantee of our worst nightmares if we don’t win.” A former N.R.A. staffer told me, “The agency created the Wayne cult of personality.”

Established in the early seventies, Ackerman McQueen is a family business. It has about two hundred and twenty-five employees, and offices in Oklahoma City, Dallas, Alexandria, and Colorado Springs. In the past, the company has worked with other national clients, such as the Six Flags amusement parks, but now its roster seems to consist mainly of the N.R.A. and a modest set of regional accounts, including some Oklahoma-based casinos and the Chickasaw Nation. “Most of the agency’s efforts go toward servicing the N.R.A.,” a former senior employee at Ackerman told me. Tax filings for 2017, the most recent year for which records are available, show that the N.R.A. paid Ackerman McQueen and its affiliates more than forty million dollars that year. (Bill Powers, Ackerman’s executive vice-president for public relations, broadly disputed the facts of this article, saying, “It’s like an old Soviet disinformation campaign—you take a little bit of truth and wrap it around a bunch of that things aren’t true.” He declined to point to specific inaccuracies.)

Ackerman McQueen provides the N.R.A. with public-relations work, marketing, branding, corporate communications, event planning, Web design, social-media engagement, and digital-content production. It wields great influence over the N.R.A.’s initiatives and is involved with nearly all of the group’s divisions, with the exception of its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, where, according to former employees, Ackerman’s messaging sometimes undermines the group’s efforts. In 2012, after a gunman murdered twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, LaPierre argued that the best way to prevent such atrocities was to install armed police officers in schools. When President Barack Obama criticized this reasoning, Ackerman responded with an ad noting that Obama’s children received Secret Service protection. An ominous voice-over asked, “Are the President’s kids more important than yours?” At the time, N.R.A. lobbyists were negotiating with federal lawmakers over potential regulations. The organization maintained friendly relations with several Democratic legislators, including Mary Landrieu, a senator from Louisiana. According to a former staffer, the ad caused Landrieu and others to “freak out,” nearly ending those relationships. “Ackerman never cleared that ad with us,” the former staffer recalled. “We had no oversight over Ackerman McQueen.” (Landrieu could not be reached for comment.)

Many N.R.A. employees have long suspected Ackerman of inflating the cost of the services it provides, but its relationships with executives remain strong. For instance, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2019 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Business, Guns

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.