Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Details continue to emerge about the ongoing crisis at the National Rifle Association and government investigations are just starting to build up steam, so it is way too early to try to comprehensively identify nonprofit law lessons arising from this situation. That said, here are two early takes.
Boards Matter (Eventually). The NRA has a huge Board of Directors, with more than 70 members. While presumably its members are strong supporters of the NRA's agenda, they also have a legal role that gives them both access to information and credibility when making criticisms. While details about the NRA's recent problems emerged in a mid-April New Yorker story, they were given added visibility when they became the apparent basis for a leadership challenge by a faction of board members, including then-President Oliver North. That challenge failed, as did apparently earlier, quieter attempts by board members to rein in possibly problematic behavior, as explored in the New Yorker story. But that may not be the end, as the N.Y. Times reported yesterday that board member and former congressman Allen B. West has now publicly called for NRA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre to resign. One of the many board members may also have been the source of recently leaked internal memos that support many of the concerns now coming to light.
Success Does Not Excuse All Wrongdoing. Wayne LaPierre has been with the NRA since 1977, and been its head since 1991, during which time he has led the NRA to increasing prominence and influence. But despite that success, he now appears vulnerable. Indeed, in an apparent pattern that many who work with nonprofits will recognize, that success and long tenure may have led him to engage in the very transactions that could prove to be his undoing. For example, while far from the most significant questionable transaction financially or probably legally, his alleged spending of more than $200,000 for wardrobe purchases charged to an NRA vendor is, if true, a classic example of an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound (and possible excess benefit transaction for federal tax purposes). For the rank-and-file NRA member, paying him over a million dollars in compensation annually presumably can be justified by the organization's success; but then he should buy his own clothes (and who spends over $200,000 on clothes?).
With the continuing New York Attorney General, congressional, and possibly Internal Revenue Service interest, we will hopefully learn much more about how the crisis developed in the coming months. And of course this is on top of previous congressional interest in alleged Russian ties to the NRA in the time leading up to the 2016 election.