Attorney General Letitia James promised New York voters she would use the power of her office to punish her political enemies if she won, and now she has. The progressive Democrat, who called the group a “terrorist organization” while campaigning, sued the NRA and its leadership on Thursday, asking the state court to dissolve the corporation. Ms. James asserts NRA leader Wayne LaPierre has fleeced the non-profit for years, to the tune of millions, and to remedy the violation, the court should kill the organization by revoking its corporate charter.
From My Cold, Dead Hands
Home to over five million members, the NRA is the nation’s largest, most well-known, and best-funded firearms education and civil rights advocacy group. Ms. James asserts jurisdiction over the organization under her authority to monitor and govern non-profits in the state – the NRA was chartered in N.Y. in 1871. She claims that the association should be legally decimated, not for her or fellow Democrats’ political benefit, but for the benefit of the members!
The NRA called the suit “a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta.” Ms. James denies those accusations, saying the suit has no basis in her personal political preferences, which were expressed throughout her 2018 election campaign as contempt and scorn directed at the group. This is not a criminal case against the NRA, Mr. LaPierre, or his confederates, where evidence beyond a reasonable doubt would be required. Instead, it’s a civil court action where James is allowed to stand in legally like a director of the corporation, to request its dissolution. The complaint itself mentions where the law grants the power to dissolve non-profits whose leadership is corrupt but does not explain why that would be a sound course of action here, absent political motivations.
The NRA has hundreds of millions in revenue with over 500 employees, and is the best known civil rights group on guns. The New York attorney general believes that because four to six people at the top were scamming the members, those members would be better off with no NRA at all. Replacing the very few corrupt actors at the top wouldn’t be a tenable solution because – well, Ms. James didn’t share that with the court, or the public. She merely stated:
“I will use the constitutional power as an attorney general to regulate charities, that includes the NRA, to investigate their legitimacy.”
While the details of the financial fraud are profoundly troubling, why do they demand the NRA’s dissolution? James said it was “critically important” that she asks the courts to dissolve the NRA because the corruption was so broad and because “they have basically destroyed the assets” of the organization.
Personal Piggy Bank
“With the assistance of [Wilson] Phillips, [Joshua] Powell, and [John] Frazer, LaPierre abused his position as a fiduciary to the NRA to obtain millions of dollars in personal benefits in the form of undisclosed, excessive compensation, which includes in-kind benefits and reimbursements from the NRA and its vendors.” So reads the complaint against the NRA’s executive vice president and his team. The state says:
- LaPierre has spent millions of dollars of the NRA’s charitable assets for private plane trips for himself and his family, including trips for his family when he was not present.
- In the last five years, LaPierre and his family have visited the Bahamas by private air charter on at least eight occasions, at a cost of more than $500,000 to the NRA. On many of those trips, LaPierre and his family were gifted the use of a 107-foot yacht owned by an NRA vendor.
- LaPierre received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from another NRA vendor in the form of complimentary safaris in Africa and other worldwide locations for himself and his spouse.
If true, these allegations present a shocking tale of fraud and abuse at the gun rights group, with many more instances of self-dealing by LaPierre and the others accused. The NRA responded with an attack on the motivations behind the suit. “It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda,” the organization said. Mr. LaPierre did not deny any of the numerous charges of malfeasance, self-dealing, or violation of N.Y. laws.
More’s the pity, the allegations may be true. Mr. LaPierre and his cronies may have massively defrauded NRA members and broken the law. Now, NRA members will have to pay for the litigation costs to come, while suffering a body-blow to their political operation. It seems an outcome less designed to benefit them, as James asserts, but rather to cause disorder and disarray at the pro-gun rights group, mere months before a new president and Congress are elected.
What a gift this all is to Messrs. LaPierre, Phillips, Powell, and Frazer. Ms. James’ choice, exercised for the benefit of the NRA membership, was to make those men co-defendants with the NRA, instead of standing alone accused of defrauding the pro-gun community, acting against the NRA. While that will accrue many benefits to the accused men, it may also help James’ political enemies – pro-gun politicians. That’s if the pro-gun community can make lemonade from the lemons – by using Ms. James’ manipulation of state power to extinguish their free speech rights as a rallying cry for their side.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.