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[JIM LO SCALZO/AP]

Bang for the Buck

NRA Membership Revenue Fell 34% in 2019, Tumbling to a 7-Year Low

Meanwhile, the gun group's legal costs soared.

The National Rifle Association’s revenue from member dues cratered and legal costs soared in 2019 as the group weathered internal strife and investigations by attorneys general in New York State and Washington, D.C., into alleged financial impropriety and violations of nonprofit law.

Revenue from member dues dropped from $170 million in 2018 to $113 million last year, a 34 percent decline, according to an audited financial statement that the gun group recently provided to the North Carolina secretary of state. That’s the lowest member revenue figure the NRA has posted since 2012, when it reported $108 million in member dues.

The group’s legal, audit, and tax costs, meanwhile, grew from $31 million in 2018 to $43 million last year, an increase of 39 percent. As The Trace has reported, the NRA’s substantial payments — $54 million over two years by one estimate — to the firm of outside counsel Bill Brewer have caused internal uproar.

The audit shows that the NRA operated in the red in 2019, as it has since 2016, said Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at The Ohio State University who has studied the group’s finances. He pointed to a deficit excluding donor restricted funds of nearly $50 million last year.

“No matter how you interpret it, things have gotten worse,” Mittendorf said. “They are in the hole by $50 million if you are talking about the assets that they have at their discretion.”

The NRA had sought an extension from North Carolina charity regulators that would have allowed it to file its 2019 financial statement in November, but the request was denied, which effectively established a September 1 deadline. Portions of the audit appear to be missing and state officials did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation.

Absent from the audit, which was posted Tuesday on the state’s charities website, are notes detailing financial transactions with related parties and litigation in which the NRA is involved, Mittendorf said. The document also does not specify the firm that conducted the audit, as is customary. Late Wednesday afternoon, the audit was no longer available on the state website.

In March 2019, according to the audit, the NRA took out a $10 million line of credit against its Fairfax, Virginia, headquarters. That was in addition to an existing $28 million line of credit also secured by the building, the audit notes. In 2021, the group has $35 million due on those credit lines and other debt, the audit states. The NRA’s total debt obligation as of December was $57 million.

In 2020, the NRA’s financial troubles have continued, with hundreds of staffers losing jobs, according to press reports. The Trace has reported that the office that solicits big dollar donations, a revenue source distinct from member dues, has been particularly hard hit. In a recording of a January board meeting obtained by NPR, NRA boss Wayne LaPierre said that legal battles have cost the group $100 million. 

Earlier this month, the attorneys generals looking into the NRA’s finances brought complaints against the group for violations of nonprofit laws. Those proceedings could result in significant restructuring of the NRA or even, in one extreme scenario, its dissolution. At a minimum, they will continue to add to the group’s mounting legal bills.