The New York State attorney general sued the National Rifle Association on Thursday, seeking to dissolve the powerful gun rights advocacy organization and charging its leadership with illegally diverting funds for their own gain.
Attorney General Letitia James said the NRA’s leaders used members’ contributions and donations as “their own piggy bank” and misspent $64 million over three years for their personal use. She also said they awarded contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family and appeared to dole out lucrative “no-show” contracts to former employees to buy their silence and continued loyalty.
She cited a shift in the organization’s finances, from a nearly $28 million surplus in 2015 to a $36 million deficit in 2018.
In response, the NRA sued James, saying she had violated the group’s right to free speech. Its lawsuit also seeks to block her investigation.
James contended in the lawsuit that four defendants — Wayne LaPierre, the NRA executive vice president and CEO; Wilson “Woody” Phillips, former treasurer and chief financial officer; Joshua Powell, former chief of staff and director of operations; and John Frazier, general counsel — “instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive and fraudulent.”
“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” said James, a Democrat. The organization, she said, “is fraught with fraud and abuse,” which is why her office is seeking to dissolve it, “because no organization is above the law.”
NRA President Carolyn Meadows labeled James a “political opportunist” who was pursuing a “rank vendetta” with an attack on its members’ Second Amendment rights.
“Our members won’t be intimidated or bullied in their defense of political and constitutional freedom,” the NRA president tweeted.
The NRA is the largest and most powerful gun rights advocacy organization in the United States. The group, which has millions of gun owners as members, opposes any regulation of the gun market. It also has been a major contributor to political campaigns.
In 2016, the NRA spent $30.3 million in support of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks campaign spending.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House on Thursday, Trump called the lawsuit a “very terrible thing” and suggested that the NRA move to Texas to “lead a very good and beautiful life.”
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, Trump’s sons, are NRA members.
Though its headquarters are in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and continues to be incorporated in the state.
Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C., attorney general has simultaneously sued the NRA Foundation, a charitable arm of the organization designed to provide programs for firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting safety, accusing it of diverting funds to the NRA to help pay for lavish spending by top executives.