Imagine a world without the National Rifle Association. No, seriously, because in 2020 anything is possible (maybe even good things!) and the powerful gun rights advocacy group is facing a lawsuit that seeks to shut it down for good. New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose 2018 campaign vowed to investigate the organization’s non-profit status, is leading the effort to disband the group. On Thursday, James announced that she filed a lawsuit in New York state court accusing top NRA officials of redirecting millions of dollars from the organization for their personal use and financial gain. James’s lawsuit followed an 18-month investigation that found the NRA is “fraught with fraud and abuse,” she said.
"The NRA's influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets," James said in a statement. For these reasons, the lawsuit will seek to dissolve the NRA.
James’ complaint names the NRA as a whole, in addition to Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, general counsel John Frazer, former CFO Woody Phillips, and former chief of staff Joshua Powell as defendants. All four stand accused of financial wrongdoing, including using NRA funds for family vacations and other private trips, private jets, and expensive meals. These alleged actions caused the organization to lose more than $64 million dollars in just three years.
“In New York, we have a set of laws that every individual and entity must be held accountable to, regardless of its size, influence, power, or wealth,” said James. “No one is above the law, not even the NRA, one of the most powerful organizations in this country.”
The NRA has been at the center of a number of legal battles and infighting in recent years. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden investigated the NRA’s alleged Russian ties last year, as the organization feuded with its top PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, and later with former NRA President Oliver North. The organization filed a lawsuit against Ackerman in April 2019 after the PR firm refused to cooperate with an audit launched by the NRA to get ahead of James’s lawsuit, Rolling Stone reported.
But could this all actually lead to the organization's shut down? Back in 2016, the NRA reportedly on the verge of a collapse, and would soon “be unable to exist.” And, suffice it to say, things have not been looking great for the gun rights group in years since. The NRA is already facing a dire financial situation. A secret recording obtained by NPR earlier this year revealed LaPierre telling attendees of an NRA board meeting that legal battles in 2018 and 2019 had cost the group $100 million. "I mean, that's huge," said LaPierre.
James’ complaint builds on the existing issues and accuses the NRA of violating laws governing its charitable status, false reporting to the IRS and on state filings, and improper income tax withholding. And the number of financial hits it has taken in recent years could have an impact on the organization's powerful hold over American politics, too. In the midst of the NRA's various legal battles, Trump tweeted the organization "must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS — FAST!" Maybe that's because the organization gave more than $30 million to the president's 2016 campaign.
It's entirely possible that James' lawsuit could really bury the advocacy. But, if nothing more, the NRA going up in flames is probably the only surprise that 2020 actually needs. It might just save us all (literally).