The National Rifle Association has laid off several employees who solicited big-dollar donations for the group as part of a broader staff cutback that at least one board member has criticized as too secretive, according to former NRA employees and emails reviewed by The Trace.
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre alerted employees to the downsizing — which involves wage cuts, a four-day week for some staff, and layoffs — by email on March 23. While LaPierre blamed the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on fundraising, others familiar with the situation told The Trace that donations were down and the NRA’s finances strained before the virus struck.
An April 7 Politico story put the number of employees who have lost their jobs in recent weeks at more than 60, a figure that the NRA did not dispute. In its most recent annual Internal Revenue Service filing, which covered the 2018 calendar year, the NRA said it had 816 employees.
The pandemic has prompted the gun group to slash staff salaries and cancel its annual conference. Meanwhile, it’s inked a partnership with BlazeTV, which airs broadcasters who’ve claimed the virus posed little risk to Americans.
In an email sent April 5 to the organization’s chief counsel John Frazer and other top officials, longtime board member Robert K. Brown wrote that “more are rumored to be fired this coming week” and demanded to know who was being let go. “Why have we not been advised regarding termination of employees? … Who is making these decisions … and why?” he wrote in the email, which has a subject line that reads, “What the fuck is going on??”
“This lack of transparency and failure to communicate indicates incompetent and inept leadership on the part of those unnamed individuals making these decisions!” Brown continued.
He complained of “rumors,” but stated as fact that “the Director of Grass Roots” had “been fired.” Glen Caroline has long led the Grassroots Programs & Campaign Field Operations Division at the NRA’s politics and lobbying arm. Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
Brown, who did not respond to our emailed request for comment, went on to state that “at least eight individuals” at the NRA’s Office of Advancement had “been fired.”
Two people who held high-level positions at the NRA with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the office, which solicits large-dollar gifts, had been hard hit. One identified 10 people who had been laid off, the other seven. Both said that Tim Fisher, the NRA’s director of planned giving, was among those who lost their jobs. Planned giving, also often called legacy giving, is the practice of leaving a portion of one’s estate to a charity. The NRA has long urged its members to name the organization in their wills.
Attempts to reach Fisher for comment were not successful.
According to the two former employees, the job cuts included several “advancement officers.” NRA advancement officers identify and cultivate major donors, whose gifts can range from the low four figures to a million dollars or more.
David Dell’Aquila, a onetime benefactor turned critic of NRA leadership who has led a donor revolt over the past year, told The Trace that he had persuaded a group of like-minded supporters to withhold $163 million in planned donations.
“It’s definitely having an impact,” Dell’Aquila said. “They are taking a huge hit.”
The NRA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The organization has been on precarious financial footing for years, according to Brian Mittendorf, a professor at The Ohio State University who specializes in nonprofit finance and has written about money trouble at the gun group. “While COVID-19 may have created a tough environment for the NRA’s fundraising,” Mittendorf wrote in an email, “the seeds of these issues were planted long ago.”
Several people familiar with the gun group’s inner workings have pointed to mounting legal bills as another source of financial distress. The NRA is under investigation by attorneys general in New York State and Washington, D.C., for possible violations of nonprofit law, and is engaged in lawsuits with Dell’Aquila, its former marketing firm, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
That legal work is being handled by the firm of outside counsel Bill Brewer, whose fees, which totalled $24 million over a 13-month period, have sparked internal debate and controversy. A spokesperson for the law firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Amid preparation for all the firings, the NRA has made at least one hire, according to a source familiar with the matter who, fearing retaliation, requested anonymity. In March, Tami Blaschke became director of the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Forum, which raises funds and promotes the involvement of women in shooting sports and Second Amendment advocacy. According to the source, Susan LaPierre, wife of Wayne LaPierre, was behind Blaschke’s hiring. Attempts to contact Blaschke were not immediately successful.
A March 27 email reviewed by The Trace mentions Blaschke’s recent arrival and a Women’s Leadership Forum online fundraising auction. The auction website states that money raised will “train and equip firearms users of all ages” and “keep our children, schools and communities safer.” Such efforts are largely the domain of the NRA Foundation. However the email, which was sent by a Women’s Leadership Forum employee to more than a dozen fundraising staffers states “all earnings will be allocated to the NRA’s general fund or ‘mothership.’”
The general fund pays the bulk of the organization’s expenses, including executive salaries and legal bills.