For the fourth year in a row, the National Rifle Association ran a deficit in 2019, with expenses eclipsing revenue by $12.3 million, according to the NRA’s most recent 990 filing with the IRS.
The filing also discloses the improper diversion of NRA assets to benefit leadership including chief executive Wayne LaPierre and, allegedly, the former director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, Chris Cox.
Prior 990s had shown the NRA’s deficit, which hit $2.7 million in 2018, trending down.
As The Trace has reported, member revenue dropped to a 7-year-low in 2019 and legal costs rose as the NRA faced investigations by attorneys general in New York and Washington, D.C.
The filing says that the NRA’s outside law firm, Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, was paid $24.8 million, making it the group’s top vendor in 2019. The firm’s monthly take averaged more than $2 million last year. If that figure held in 2020, on top of what the firm collected in 2018, the year it was hired, the NRA has paid the firm roughly $60 million to date. Earlier this week, The Trace examined the track record of the firm’s namesake, attorney Bill Brewer, who some NRA members and insiders accuse of protecting LaPierre to the detriment of the organization.
According to the 990, LaPierre, who is being investigated for tax fraud and collected $1.9 million in compensation last year, repaid the NRA $300,000 in travel expenses charged to the group from 2015 to 2019 that were found to be an excess benefit under the federal tax code. New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has filed suit against the NRA seeking to dissolve the group, has alleged that LaPierre wasted millions of NRA dollars on private jets and travel.
Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at The Ohio State University who has studied NRA finances, said by admitting to improper diversion of assets in 2019 and in prior years, the group had taken a rare step “that appears to be a response to the legal positions taken against them.”
The NRA says it has identified other improperly paid benefits, according to the 990, including over $1 million in personal expenses that Cox, its former lobbyist, allegedly charged the organization from 2015 to 2019 for meals, travel, and tickets to sporting events. Cox — who was ousted in June 2019 after falling out of favor with LaPierre — disputes the NRA’s allegation, the document states. Messages for Cox left at his consulting firm were not immediately returned.
The group is looking at whether other transactions ran afoul of the tax code, the 990 states, including some that may involve the violation of the NRA’s travel policy by board members.