The National Rifle Association is in turmoil and New York Attorney General Letitia James just added to the group’s ongoing problems.
On the same day that Oliver North was forced out as NRA president after a failed attempt to oust Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre (imagine that, Oliver North trying to organize a coup), a spokesperson for James’ office confirmed that New York’s attorney general had opened a formal investigation of the NRA’s tax-exempt status, including issuing subpoenas and an order for the gun-lobby group to preserve internal documents.
“The Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation related to the National Rifle Association (NRA),” a spokesperson for James’ office told NPR. “As part of this investigation, the Attorney General has issued subpoenas. We will not have further comment at this time.”
An outside lawyer for the NRA told NPR that the organization would “fully cooperate with any inquiry into its finances.”
Last year, before she was elected, James promised to investigate the NRA’s nonprofit status as part of her platform to address gun violence, the New York Daily News reported at the time. James has called the NRA a “terrorist organization.” As a 501(c)(4) organization, the NRA can conduct lobbying, and donations to the group are not tax-deductible, as the newspaper pointed out. But the NRA appears to circumvent this at times via its foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization.
A recent profile of the NRA by The New Yorker, citing federal tax forms, charity records, corporate filings, and other internal documents, noted that “a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements.”
A senior NRA employee described the environment at the organization as “distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed, whose leaders have encouraged disastrous business ventures and questionable partnerships, and have marginalized those who object.”
The former head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, Marc Owens, told The New Yorker, “The litany of red flags is just extraordinary.”
In response to that article, the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety filed a complaint to the IRS over the NRA’s tax-exempt status. Everytown for Gun Safety also called for federal and state investigations into the NRA’s charity operation.
“We’ve seen a lot of smoke — now there is fire,” Nick Suplina, managing director for law and policy at Everytown, said in a statement at the time.
The complaint notes that the NRA Foundation allegedly transferred $19.2 million and $18.8 million in tax-deductible donations to the NRA in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The foundation also apparently loaned the NRA $5 million. All of this could spell big trouble for the NRA given the recent announcement by the New York attorney general’s office.
And it couldn’t have happened to a worse group of people.
As The New York Times noted, James has jurisdiction over the NRA because it was chartered in New York. Her office has broad authority to investigate nonprofit groups, as was seen in the recent action against Donald Trump’s charitable foundation. Last December, under an agreement with then-New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, the Trump Foundation was dissolved due to “a shocking pattern of illegality.”
The same fate could now await the NRA. Keep them in your prayers.