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[Photo illustration: Daniel Nass]

Bang for the Buck

An Illustrated Guide to the NRA’s Lavish Spending and Cozy Deals

How vendors and executives are bleeding the gun group dry.

The National Rifle Association is wracked by internal turmoil and subject to multiple federal and state inquiries in the wake of reporting that has exposed pervasive self-dealing, greed, and financial mismanagement at the organization’s highest levels.

Internal memos, obtained by The Trace for a series of articles co-published with The New Yorker, show that NRA officials have been lining their pockets with lucrative compensation and ringing up six-figure expenses even as vendors drain millions more from the organization through mounting fees and poorly documented charges. Other news outlets have added details about the questionable spending, including lavish wardrobe and travel reimbursements to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.

The revelations have led the Senate Finance Committee and New York attorney general to probe whether the gun group has violated its nonprofit status. Below, a ledger of some the most problematic line items and dubious arrangements that have surfaced so far.

At least $115 million

The sum the NRA spent on its communications firm over a six-year period.

Much of the upheaval at the NRA concerns its ties to Ackerman McQueen, the Oklahoma City-based communications firm that has shaped the gun group’s public image for decades. It’s a relationship defined by escalating spending and revolving-door hiring. “They’re a for-profit organization, trying to do things that would bring more money to them,” said former NRA fundraiser Aaron Davis of the firm. “They have completely different intentions than a nonprofit should have, which is for the common good.”

NRA’s Reported Spending With Ackerman

$40 million

NRA discloses

additional spending

for the first time

30

20

10

0

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

$40 million

NRA discloses additional

spending for the first time

30

20

10

0

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Source: NRA tax filings.

The NRA paid Ackerman McQueen more than $40 million in 2017 alone — the first year in which its tax filings disclosed the full extent of that financial relationship. Amid the recent turmoil, the gun group has now filed two lawsuits against its once-favored partner, accusing it of failing to provide justification for its bills. Ackerman denies the allegations and brought a countersuit on May 23.

$1.8 million

House rental fees paid by the NRA to a TV production company.

Another internal NRA memo describes “vague and deceptive” invoices that the gun group paid out to other vendors. One of them was Associated Television International, a production company that produced a crime show featuring NRA leader LaPierre. ATI billed the NRA “$1.8M for rental of a house” belonging to the company’s president, David McKenzie.

who is

executive vice president of

paid $1.8 million

to rent a house

belonging to

Wayne

LaPierre

David

McKenzie

whose

president is

which produced

a show featuring

Associated

Television

International

paid $1.8 million to rent a house belonging to

who is executive vice president of

David

McKenzie

Wayne

LaPierre

the president

of the production

company

which produced a show featuring

Associated

Television

International

ATI’s outside counsel told The Trace that the firm is now “working on an independent documentary called ‘Inside the NRA.’”

$274,695.03

Clothing purchases made by Wayne LaPierre at a Beverly Hills boutique.

Over a 13-year span, LaPierre was a devotee of the Rodeo Drive outpost of Ermenegildo Zegna, a high-end Italian clothier, expensing his purchases through Ackerman. Leaked letters from Ackerman to LaPierre show the firm is now seeking receipts or an itemized accounting of the wardrobe items he acquired through nearly 40 transactions ranging from $205 to more than $39,000.

$267,460.53

Travel and rent expenses paid for Wayne LaPierre through Ackerman.

Ackerman has also demanded documentation for charges made by LaPierre on an Ackerman-issued American Express card, costs the firm then passed along to the NRA. LaPierre’s jet-setting has included:

  • $95,000 for trips to the Bahamas, Dallas, and Palm Springs during the 2012 holiday season.
  • $18,300 for a car and driver in Hungary and Italy.
  • Hotel stays at the Four Seasons in Budapest and a five-star resort on the shores of Lake Como.

A separate set of charges included in Ackerman’s request for detailed receipts covered $13,800 in rent for an apartment that LaPierre had the firm secure for an NRA intern during the summer of 2016.

At least $185,000

Undisclosed donations the NRA made to a charity headed by Wayne LaPierre’s wife.

Until recently, LaPierre’s wife Susan served as president of a charity called Youth For Tomorrow. Since 2013, the NRA Foundation has donated at least $185,000 to YFT in the form of event sponsorships, which don’t have to be disclosed on tax filings. The mission of the NRA Foundation is to raise money in support of “firearm-related public interest activities”; Youth For Tomorrow is a Christian charity that promotes children’s welfare.

has donated at

least $185,000

to the children’s

charity

who is

executive vice

president of

Youth for

Tomorrow

Wayne

LaPierre

whose

president was

who is

married to

Susan LaPierre

has donated at

least $185,000

to the children’s

charity

who is executive vice president of

Youth for

Tomorrow

Wayne

LaPierre

whose

president was

who is

married to

Susan LaPierre

“The question is, Why are they not reporting the payments? Why not be open and upfront about them? Is it because the recipient is closely associated with Susan LaPierre?” said Phillip Hackney, a former IRS employee.

$100,000 per day

The average daily billings incurred by the NRA from its new law firm.

In April, The Trace and The New Yorker first reported that the NRA was paying the firm of its new outside counsel, William Brewer III, “an average of a $1.5 million a month.” A letter written by ex-NRA President Oliver North subsequently surfaced, indicating internal concerns over the mounting legal costs. “The Brewer invoices are draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed,” the letter states, alongside a calculation that the gun group’s payments increased to nearly $100,000 a day during the first quarter of 2019. North called for the board to initiate an “outside, independent review of the Brewer firm’s invoices.”

Brewer, who is representing the NRA in a lawsuit against Ackerman (among other legal battles), is the son-in-law of Ackerman founder Angus McQueen.

More than $100,000

Personal expenses racked up by one NRA executive in a single year.

Josh Powell, who served as the NRA’s executive director of general operations for two years, received “corporate living arrangements” from the organization as part of a total compensation package that reached nearly $800,000 in 2017. Powell has been a party to multiple arrangements that could have constituted conflicts of interest: his wife, Colleen Gallagher, was hired by one of the NRA’s top fundraising vendors, and his father, a photographer, was paid by the NRA to photograph shooting competitions.

paid $2.6 million for fundraising services to

employed as executive

director

McKenna &

Associates

Josh Powell

which hired as a senior advisor

who is

married to

Colleen

Gallagher

paid $2.6 million for fundraising services to

employed as

executive director

McKenna &

Associates

Josh Powell

which hired as a senior advisor

who is

married to

Colleen

Gallagher

Last December, Powell was given a “promotion” to senior strategist, with responsibilities that include supporting the NRA’s legal team. Powell is not an attorney.

Internal NRA memos raise questions about several other NRA officials who may have used their positions for personal financial benefit:

  • Kyle Weaver, a former executive director, was fired in 2016 but kept getting paid through 2019 and received “a final lump sum” in January.
  • Wayne Sheets, Executive Director of the NRA Foundation, retired in 2008 but continues to receive a “base monthly consulting fee” of $30,000.
  • Payments were made to the “significant other” of Woody Phillips, the NRA’s former treasurer and CFO.

$630,000

The salary paid to an NRA employee who also earned six figures from a vendor he oversaw.

Mike Marcellin, a longtime NRA employee who oversaw the gun group’s relationship with insurance administrator Lockton Affinity, retired in early 2016 but received a full year’s salary: nearly $630,000, according to tax filings. That same year, Lockton paid Marcellin about $450,000. An internal memo claims that “no one was aware” of his arrangement.

Marcellin isn’t the only employee who took money from a vendor while on the NRA’s payroll. Tyler Schropp, who headed the high-dollar fundraising division at the NRA, simultaneously served as treasurer of a firm closely linked to Ackerman McQueen.

More than $1 million

The annual consulting fee that Wayne LaPierre will earn when he retires.

LaPierre’s contract “provides for consulting services and personal appearances upon the end of his employment, at an annual rate that starts at his currently contracted final base salary and is later reduced,” according to state records. He currently earns more than $1 million per year.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said former IRS official Marc Owens.

Images: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster; AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite; Daniel Acker/Bloomberg; Paul Morigi/Getty Images.