The National Rifle Association elected several officers on May 20 who have been allied with a reform bloc of board members and hailed by some as marking a new chapter for the organization. Those elevated to power, however, include people tied to past misuse of NRA funds and a board member who conspired to overturn the 2020 election.

Back in 2018, a band of NRA accountants detailed what they felt were the organization’s most troubling financial arrangements in a memo. Unearthed by The Trace in 2019, the memo was a catalyst for the rupture and legal turmoil that would soon engulf the group. It singled out reimbursement of rent and living expenses for top staffers, including Doug Hamlin and Joe DeBergalis. The memo noted that the NRA was paying “only half” of Hamlin’s rent, but stated that the payments did not flow from any written NRA policy or contract. NRA tax filings for 2019 and 2020 disclosed that housing expenses totaled nearly $25,000 for Hamlin and more than $60,000 for DeBergalis over those two years. Following the group’s annual meeting in Dallas this month, board members chose Hamlin, director of the NRA’s publishing arm since 2014, to succeed Wayne LaPierre as executive vice president and CEO. Hamlin beat a candidate affiliated with an old guard of LaPierre loyalists. And in one of his first acts as CEO, Hamlin re-appointed DeBergalis as the group’s operations director.

NRA spokesperson Nick Perrine said in a statement: “As has been publicly reported for years, certain accommodations and housing allowances were made for a limited period of time for NRA executives who held national positions. These were approved by NRA executives who are no longer with the association.” Perrine added that “testimony” — presumably during a recent civil corruption trial in which a jury found the NRA liable — “reflects that all the issues raised in the ‘top concerns memo,’ including any past housing allowances, have been addressed.” 

In addition to Hamlin, the leadership team now includes new NRA President Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman and Libertarian Party presidential candidate who was the only victor not affiliated with the board’s small but increasingly influential group of reformers; Second Vice President Mark Vaughan, head of the Oklahoma Rifle Association, who shot and wounded a man on a killing spree at Vaughan’s business in 2014; and First Vice President Bill Bachenberg, a Pennsylvania businessman who has supported efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Bachenberg chaired his state’s slate of pro-Donald Trump fake electors that was submitted to Congress, according to news reports, and in 2022 he was subpoenaed by the U.S House of Representatives January 6 Committee. The NRA has endorsed Trump, but Bachenberg’s rise to first vice president further yokes the group’s leadership to the MAGA wing of the GOP.

A year ago, the head of a cybersecurity firm sued Bachenberg in a Michigan federal court for breach of contract. The suit alleges that Bachenberg floated a $1 million line of credit to an attorney waging a campaign to identify voting fraud in battleground states. He was more than a money backer, the suit states, and was involved in organizing elements of the campaign. After the cybersecurity firm found no evidence of fraud, the suit alleges that it was asked to “write a report stating that there were cheat codes in the software and that there was evidence of remote/local hacking of the elections systems.” The firm refused, according to the ongoing suit, and soon the defendants demanded repayment and began to smear the company’s president.

According to a process server’s filing in the case, when notified that he was being sued, Bachenberg became physical. “Bill Bachenberg attempted to take my phone out of my right hand and punched me on the inside of my elbow,” the process server stated. “He then attempted to yank my phone out of my hand again and struck me in the right shoulder/collarbone. He then pushed me and I twisted my left hip.” The process server stated that he’d sought hospital treatment and reported the incident to the Pennsylvania State Police.

Reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer who wrote a profile of Bachenberg in October obtained an email that he’d written in May 2021. In the email, addressed to “fellow patriots,” Bachenberg outlined the fraud he said had occurred in six battleground states during the 2020 election and estimated that nearly 1 million illegal votes had been cast in Pennsylvania alone.

“If you want to save our country for future generations and can help financially (any amount) please let me know,” Bachenberg wrote in the email, which also urged recipients to turn off location tracking on devices and stop syncing their phones with their vehicles. “We have ways to keep you anonymous and make sure the money is used in the most critical areas.” According to the Inquirer report, Bachenberg signed the email “007,” in a nod to James Bond.

Asked to comment about Bachenberg, the NRA did not respond.

The new NRA leaders must arrest a financial collapse. The group collected a mere $62 million in dues from its members in 2023, according to an annual report made available at the Dallas meeting, marking a continued erosion of support. That’s a 63 percent drop in member revenue since 2018, when the group collected $170 million, and the lowest amount in at least two decades. Total revenue for the NRA and its affiliates lagged expenses by nearly $27 million, meaning the group finished 2023 in the red. Early this year, the report discloses, the NRA liquidated $44.6 million of its investment portfolio to pay off a credit line and fund operations.

Hamlin has taken house-cleaning steps, moving John Frazer out as NRA general counsel. There is no evidence that Frazer, like other leaders, enriched himself with NRA dollars, but in February, a jury in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s case against the gun group found that he had been a negligent steward of group assets. Hamlin tapped longtime NRA attorney Michael Blaz to step in as general counsel and let Frazer retain his role as secretary.

Whether the organization can turn its finances around without a well-known figurehead like LaPierre making solicitations remains to be seen. In a January 2022 deposition, former CFO Craig Spray described how LaPierre’s fundraising clout was used to bail the organization out of cash crunches. “We tested a lot of different signatures,” Spray said, describing written donation appeals, “and Wayne’s signature was the only one that consistently brought in cash.”