Weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook, while addressing a hunting conference in Reno, Nevada, the National Rifle Association’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, decried the hypocrisy of political “elites” who were pushing for stronger gun laws while protected by armed security details. Records show that during a 10-day period that included that speech, LaPierre spent more than $100,000 on air travel.
In December 2015, LaPierre appeared in an NRA video warning ominously of “disarmament” by the same Washington elites. Three months earlier, he spent $39,000 at an Ermenegildo Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills, California, capping a total of $274,000 in purchases from the high-end Italian clothier over an 11-year stretch.
The details of LaPierre’s lavish spending are spelled out in attachments to a pair of letters from then-NRA President Oliver North to the group’s audit committee that were leaked to an online server last week. Along with the wardrobe and a total of $267,460.50 in travel, the records show that LaPierre asked that the NRA’s longtime marketing firm pay $13,800 to rent an apartment for a summer intern. A source for The Wall Street Journal told the paper that the documents appear authentic.
While the existence of LaPierre’s six-figure clothing and travel expenses had previously been reported, the new documents offer a more precise accounting of what LaPierre charged to Ackerman McQueen, the marketing firm that for years has helped to meticulously craft the gun organization’s image. Last month, the NRA abruptly launched a suit against Ackerman, claiming that the firm had engaged in deceptive billing practices. The letters from North to the audit committee effectively turn the tables, asking LaPierre to justify his own expenses.
In one letter, an April 25 memo calling for the creation of a crisis management committee to deal with the NRA’s financial woes, North cited an investigation published last month by The Trace and The New Yorker documenting how top NRA executives, contractors, and vendors siphoned millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget. North called the article “devastating,” saying that it raised “serious allegations about mismanagement, which, if true, threaten the existence of the NRA’s nonprofit status.”
That status has since come under greater public scrutiny after a probe launched by the attorney general of New York, an inquiry by the members of the Senate Finance Committee, and a letter from a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The second letter, dated April 18 and co-signed by North and the NRA’s first vice president, Richard Childress, expresses serious concern about “the extraordinary legal fees the NRA has incurred” since bringing on lawyer William A. Brewer as outside counsel. The letter, addressed to the chairman of the NRA audit committee and the NRA’s secretary and general counsel, put the legal bill at about “$24 million over a 13-month period.”
On April 25, as the gun group was set to gather for its annual convention in Indianapolis, LaPierre alleged that North had tried to pressure him to resign by threatening to release details of financial impropriety. The next day, North was ousted as president at that convention, which concluded with LaPierre being re-elected as executive vice president.