New York Attorney General Moves to “Dissolve” the NRA, Alleging “Illegal Self-Dealing”

A screengrab of New York Attorney General Letitia James, from FRONTLINE's March 2020 documentary "NRA Under Fire."

A screengrab of New York Attorney General Letitia James, from FRONTLINE's March 2020 documentary "NRA Under Fire."

August 6, 2020

New York Attorney General Letitia James today moved to “dissolve” the National Rifle Association, filing a lawsuit alleging that the tax-exempt gun rights organization’s leaders had “looted” millions of dollars from its charitable mission for their own gain — resulting in “substantial” cuts to its spending on “core program services, including gun safety, education, training, member services and public affairs.”

“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 an announcement about the lawsuit. “The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law.”

The NRA, a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization, is chartered in the state of New York. James’ announcement of the lawsuit came after an investigation into the group’s finances that spanned more than a year.

In a statement, the NRA vowed to fight back.

“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” said NRA President Carolyn Meadows. “You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle. It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda. This has been a power grab by a political opportunist — a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta. Our members won’t be intimidated or bullied in their defense of political and constitutional freedom.”

Meadows added, “As evidenced by the lawsuit filed by the NRA today against the NYAG, we not only will not shrink from this fight — we will confront it and prevail.”

FRONTLINE investigated the challenges facing the embattled organization earlier this year in NRA Under Fire. The film traced how, last year, leaked internal documents revealed lavish spending and sparked allegations of financial misconduct by the NRA’s longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre.

“There were a lot of people around the NRA looking to be rich. Can’t imagine any other non-profit in the entire country that has a similar mission where people are making so much money,” former NRA fundraiser Aaron Davis told FRONTLINE in the film. “The hypocrisy of it all is that the membership who gives $25 doesn’t — they don’t know where their money is going.”

LaPierre has denied any wrongdoing. He is one of four individuals charged in the New York state lawsuit, along with the NRA.

He said in a statement, “The NYAG’s actions are an affront to democracy and freedom. This is an unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the NRA – the fiercest defender of America’s freedom at the ballot box for decades. The NRA is well governed, financially solvent, and committed to good governance. We’re ready for the fight. Bring it on.”

As NRA Under Fire reported, LaPierre for years had helped the NRA wielded its political power to dominate America’s conversation about gun rights and gun control — outlasting and overpowering the calls for change that followed mass shooting after mass shooting, from Columbine to Newtown to Charleston. 

But then, a movement led by survivors of the Parkland mass shooting helped to usher in a new era in which the NRA, long one of the most feared forces in Washington, came under threat from all sides.

One of the pro-gun control candidates elected following the Parkland students’ organizing? Letitia James. At the time the film was released, she had issued nearly 100 subpoenas to current and former employees of the NRA as part of her investigation.

Watch NRA Under Fire in full to get the backstory on the NRA’s evolution, and the raft of challenges it’s now facing:

— Gabrielle Schonder contributed reporting.

This story was updated to include a new statement from Wayne LaPierre.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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