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News and notes on guns in America

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New York Attorney General Letitia James. [Andrew Harrer/Getty]

New York Opens Investigation Into NRA’s Tax-Exempt Status

Attorney General Letitia James of New York has opened a formal investigation into the National Rifle Association’s nonprofit status and asked the organization and several affiliated groups to preserve financial records.

According to The New York Times, James’s office sent letters to the NRA and its affiliates on April 26. The Times reports that several businesses close to the NRA also received subpoenas.

When she was running for office in 2018, James said she intended to scrutinize the NRA. But this move was likely spurred by media reports about financial improprieties at the gun group, including our investigation published with The New Yorker.

For that story, Trace staff writer Mike Spies obtained a set of handwritten memos drafted by Emily Cummins, the NRA’s former managing director of tax and risk management. The documents describe expenses that were not disclosed on the NRA’s past tax filings and shady business practices that left the organization vulnerable to self-dealing. “NRA pays overbilled, deceptive, vague invoices to ‘preferred’ vendors and contractors,” one entry says. Another notes that NRA staff were “being told to process payments w/o documentation.” Some payments passed  through multiple entities controlled by the same people.

Spies asked Marc Owens, who served for 10 years as the head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, to review the records he obtained. “The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen,” Owens said. “There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain vendors and people in control.” He added that the apparent abuses could lead to the revocation of the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

News of James’s investigation broke during a turbulent annual meeting of the NRA, which was marked by a power struggle between Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and President Oliver North. On Saturday morning, North announced that he would be stepping down.