At the National Rifle Association, her events were known for their extravagance. That could mean paying Rascal Flatts $315,000 to play a half hour acoustic set at a luncheon, or serving chilled Maine lobster, duck foie gras Wellington, and Champagne at an intimate gathering in the penthouse of a Four Seasons Hotel. Susan LaPierre, the wife of the NRA’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, brought a consistent style to the organization’s efforts to raise money from wealthy women, which she led until late last year. Her proximity to power gave her access to vast resources.
In 2013, Susan became president of a small, Virginia-based Christian charity called Youth for Tomorrow. Started by the former Washington Redskins football coach Joe Gibbs in 1986, YFT has nothing to do with guns and instead provides a range of services to struggling families, including a residential program for at-risk children. It is a darling of conservative elites in the Washington, D.C., area, and most of its yearly revenue, which is a tiny fraction of the NRA’s, comes from a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Despite the monetary constraints, during Susan’s time as YFT president, a period that extended through 2018, her approach to fundraising was similar to the one she took at her husband’s organization. And on multiple occasions, when country music stars were booked to play YFT’s annual Valentine’s Day party, the NRA stepped in to cover entertainment costs, according to interviews and invoices obtained by The Trace. The financial records pertain to events that featured performances by Brad Paisley, Lindsay Ell, and Alan Jackson. In addition, the NRA covered fees associated with the singer Hannah Kerr, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The invoices, issued by a live production company called 46 Entertainment, show that the parties featuring Jackson and Paisley cost the NRA over $76,000. The payments were never disclosed in the gun group’s tax filings, and raise fresh concerns over self-dealing at the organization. “That’s theft,” said James Fishman, a leading nonprofit law expert, when told about the payments. “Taking money that belongs to one organization and spending it on another, with zero benefit to the NRA.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James sued to dissolve the NRA for a pattern of self-dealing in August 2020. The allegations against LaPierre have mainly involved his relationships with contractors, gifts he and Susan received from them, and costly travel expenses, like his family’s use of private jets on the NRA’s dime. YFT is not named in the complaint, but it appears to be referenced in one of the claims, which concerns a “pass-through arrangement” with the NRA’s then-public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. The arrangement, the complaint asserts, was used to “pay for expenses related to a charity whose affiliation to the NRA was not through its mission, but rather through LaPierre’s wife, who served as the president of its board of trustees in 2017 and 2018,” the years in which the performances occurred. In January, the Attorney General’s Office, which declined to comment for this story, subpoenaed Susan, requesting documents relating to YFT.
The NRA denies or disputes many of the AG’s claims and characterizations, including the allegation that seems to concern YFT. “The NRA’s support and sponsorship of Youth for Tomorrow events is widely known,” Andrew Arulanandam, the gun group’s managing director of public affairs, told The Trace. “The Association views its support of certain community-based charities as a relationship that mutually benefits the NRA and the charity.”
The Trace previously reported that the NRA Foundation served as a leading sponsor for multiple YFT events, totaling nearly $200,000. These payments were also not disclosed in the NRA’s tax filings. As with the Valentine’s Day party costs, Arulanandum said the NRA’s “support of Youth for Tomorrow was endorsed by the Audit Committee of the board of directors.”
YFT did not respond to a request for comment, but 46 Entertainment told The Trace, “We are proud to support Youth for Tomorrow and commend their efforts on behalf of at-risk youth.”
During Susan’s tenure as president of YFT’s board, her signature fundraising event was the Heart 2 Heart Gala, an exclusive gathering that took place at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The attire was formal, and attendees danced to live entertainment and participated in the Sweetheart Benefit Raffle, which featured a Toyota Tundra truck. In 2017, there were 900 guests. According to a YFT newsletter, Hannah Kerr played three original songs, and Alan Jackson “performed a spectacular show.” The NRA was billed $32,775.02, according to one of the invoices, which was labeled “Youth for Tomorrow-Invoice.” Kerr, meanwhile, cost the NRA at least $5,000, the source said.
At the 2018 gala, Brad Paisley was the main attraction. “Everyone were [sic] on their feet dancing and singing to many of his hits including, ‘Mud on the Tires’ and ‘Then’,” a YFT newsletter said. At one point, another country artist, Lindsay Ell, joined Paisley on stage for a duet. For that event, the NRA received two invoices. One, for $38,373.00, did not contain a breakdown of costs, and instead simply referred to a YFT “balance” and the date of the gala, which was February 10. The other, for $5,323.87, was titled “Youth for Tomorrow Additions” and covered items like Ell’s guitar amp and a golf cart rental.