By Terrance Turner
Jan. 15, 2021 (updated May 11)
The National Rifle Association has lost its case.
A federal judge dismissed the NRA’s bankruptcy case today, after a contentious trial in Dallas federal court. Judge Harlin Hale said he was dismissing the case because he found the bankruptcy was not filed in good faith.
“The Court finds there is cause to dismiss this bankruptcy case as not having been filed in good faith both because it was filed to gain an unfair litigation advantage and because it was filed to avoid a state regulatory scheme,” Hale wrote in his decision, quoted by CNN. His decision followed 11 days of testimony and arguments, according to the Associated Press.
The case determined whether the NRA should be able to incorporate in gun-friendly Texas instead of in New York (where it was formed in 1871). New York State sued the organization months ago over its financial practices, which prompted the filing. Lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James successfully argued that the bankruptcy case was an attempt by NRA leadership to escape accountability for using the group’s coffers as their piggybank. CEO Wayne LaPierre claimed that the NRA was the victim of a politically motivated attack.
The NRA filed Chapter 11 papers in January, in a Dallas federal court. It sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, according to the Associated Press. The move “will enable long-term, sustainable growth and ensure the NRA’s continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom,” the NRA said in a statement.
The bankruptcy will come as no surprise to close observers; the NRA had been in financial trouble for quite some time. In September 2020, former executive Joshua Powell exposed cash flow problems in a tell-all book, Inside the NRA. “The finances of the NRA are in shambles,” Powell wrote, portraying the 148-year-old gun rights group as part of “the grifter culture of Conservative Inc.”
He accused NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, his former boss and mentor, of “robbing every $45-dues-paying member to cover the costs of his own extravagance and his shameful mismanagement.” Powell is not alone. In August, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the NRA, alleging wrongdoing by LaPierre. Mr. LaPierre was accused of using N.R.A. funds to fund an extravagant lifestyle, even though he was already paid millions in direct compensation by the organization.
James’s lawsuit (against LaPierre and three others, including Powell) made damning allegations of corruption and misappropriated funds. “Among the numerous alleged violations laid out by Ms. James’s office, some were related to false reporting of annual filings both to the state and the I.R.S.,” said The New York Times. “Her office also cited ‘improper expense documentation, improper wage reporting, improper income tax withholding’ and failing to make required excise tax reporting and payment, among other issues.”
Over six and a half years, the suit said, a personal travel consultant for Mr. LaPierre was paid $13.5 million, largely on no-bid contracts. “Private flights were chartered for Mr. LaPierre’s wife and his niece. He took frequent trips to the Bahamas on the N.R.A.’s dime, often decamping to a 108-foot yacht called “Illusions” that was owned by an N.R.A. contractor and included a chef and four staterooms. He lavished gifts from Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman on his inner circle, and once put his niece up at a Four Seasons hotel for eight nights at a cost of more than $12,000, according to the complaint.”
The lawsuit charged that N.R.A. and its executives were “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years.
That was in addition to the millions the organization spent on lobbying and campaigning. In 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million on behalf of the Trump campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data. Now, as President Trump prepares to leave office, the group that spent millions to elect him is filing for bankruptcy.
UPDATE (April 27, 2021): As footage of Mr. LaPierre on a botched elephant hunt circulates the Web, more details have emerged about the NRA’s bankruptcy and his leadership. During trial in a Dallas federal bankruptcy court, Mr. LaPierre admitted that the had kept the NRA bankruptcy filing a secret from almost all its senior officials, including its general counsel, chief financial officer and top lobbyist. He also neglected to inform most of the N.R.A.’s board, according to the New York Times.
The Associated Press reports that on Wednesday (April 7), a lawyer for New York State asked why the state’s investigation had turned up no emails or text messages from LaPierre.
“I’m old fashioned,” he replied. “I haven’t sent any emails or texts.”
He claimed that he filed bankruptcy “to look for a fair legal playing field, where N.R.A. could prosper and grow in a fair environment, as opposed to what we believe had become a toxic, weaponized, politicized government in New York State.” LaPierre said the next day that he kept the bankruptcy secret from the full board because he was worried that someone on it would leak the plan. “We were very concerned,” he testified on April 8.
But was LaPierre concernced about potential conflicts of interest? His summer sailing in the Bahamas in 2012 and 2018 was on a yacht borrowed from a Hollywood producer who had done business with the NRA. LaPierre defended his vacation as a “security retreat”, claiming he’d been threatened. But he admitted that not mentioning the voyages on conflict-of-interest forms — which New York’s lawsuit contends violated NRA policy — was an oversight.
“I believe now that it should have been disclosed,” he testified. “It’s one of the mistakes I’ve made.”
One of many, apparently. New footage obtained by The New Yorker shows LaPierre and his wife Susan hunting African bush elephants in Botswana. In 2013, the two filmed their hunt for an NRA-sponsored television series called “Under Wild Skies” — which was shelved due to concerns over bad PR. It’s not hard to see why.
The New Yorker reveals that not only did Mr. LaPierre hunt an endangered animal, he couldn’t even shoot straight. “As LaPierre peers through the weapon’s scope, the guide repeatedly tells him to wait before firing. LaPierre is wearing earplugs, doesn’t hear the instructions, and pulls the trigger. The elephant drops. “Did we get him?” LaPierre asks. The elephant was immobilized but still breathing; the answer was decidedly no.
“After LaPierre’s first shot wounded the elephant, guides brought him a short distance from the animal, which was lying on its side, immobilized. Firing from point-blank range, LaPierre shot the animal three times in the wrong place. Finally, a guide had the host of ‘Under Wild Skies’ fire the shot that killed the elephant.”
So according to New Yorker editor Mike Spies, the head of the NRA misfired three times from point-blank range. His wife Susan proved to be a better shot. “Later that day, Susan LaPierre showed herself to be a better shot than her husband. After guides tracked down an elephant for her, Susan killed it, cut off its tail, and held it in the air.”
“Victory!” she shouted, laughing. “That’s my elephant tail. Way cool.”