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News and notes on guns in America

NRA Sidelines Executive After Revelations of Insider Deals and Lavish Expenses

Josh Powell, the National Rifle Association official who has been presiding over steep and controversial budget cuts within the organization, has been removed from his post as executive director of general operations and given a “promotion” to a strategic role, according to an internal NRA email obtained by The Trace.

Powell was the subject of a Trace investigation that detailed his troubled history as a businessman before joining the NRA in 2016. He left behind a trail of defaulted debts, including 20 lawsuits for more than $400,000 from unpaid vendors.

Last week, The Trace revealed that in 2017, the NRA paid more than $100,000 of Powell’s personal expenses, including a housing allowance, on top of his regular salary of more than $550,000 — which experts described as lavish and out of the ordinary for the nonprofit world. Also last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the NRA has steered lucrative contracts to firms with ties to insiders, including a fund-raising consultant that hired Powell’s wife a few weeks before he signed a contract extension.

The revelations are at odds with the austerity campaign that Powell has been leading in recent months at the NRA, which faced a $55 million revenue drop in 2017. Multiple NRATV staffers were laid off last week, and the NRA even took the drastic step last month of eliminating free coffee and water coolers at its headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.

The moves are, in part, a response to a costly legal battle between the gun group and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, whose regulators have determined that the NRA’s Carry Guard liability insurance product ran afoul of state laws. In April, Cuomo urged insurance companies and banks doing business with the NRA to consider the “reputational” damage they could suffer from working with the group. The NRA responded with a First Amendment lawsuit.

The news about Powell went out to NRA staff on Monday, through an email written by Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, who calls the New York lawsuit the NRA’s “Moment of Truth.” He goes on to say that Powell, who is not an attorney,  will “support” the “legal team and the NRA in its campaign against the State of New York” as a “senior strategist.” He will also retain his duties as LaPierre’s chief of staff.

The new executive director of operations is Joe DeBergalis, a former NRA board member who has been working directly under Powell since late 2016.

Read the full memo below:

TO: All NRA Employees

FROM: Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President

DATE: December 3, 2018

SUBJECT: STAFF ANNOUNCEMENTS

Few matters are more important to the future of our organization than our First Amendment lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Financial Services. As you know, a federal judge upheld our most vital claims in this lawsuit (above the objections of defendants), setting the stage for what promises to be a tough, high-profile legal fight on which we must prevail. This truly is the NRA’s Moment of Truth.  Indeed it is for the entire nation as well.

Against that backdrop, effective immediately, I am promoting Josh Powell to serve as Senior Strategist in connection with this important advocacy and other key endeavors for our Association. He will continue working as my Chief of Staff but, in his new role, support the Brewer legal team and the NRA in its campaign against the State of New York. We must organize ourselves around a principled and aggressive defense of our rights – in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. I know it is unacceptable to any of us that the governor attempted to coerce financial and insurance institutions to no longer do business with the NRA and others who support our defense of the Second Amendment. As an integral part of this advocacy from the beginning, Josh is well situated to help us confront the governor’s attack on our organization and our First Amendment rights.

I am also appointing Joe DeBergalis to assume the role of Acting Executive Director of General Operations. As many of you know, Joe comes to us with an extensive career in law enforcement.  He has directed key administrative functions, promoted our educational efforts, and advocated in support of our mission. Joe is a trusted and valued member of our organization, and I know he looks forward to working with all of us in his new role.

In closing, let me say that the NRA’s lawsuit against the State of New York is a significant development for not only us, but all advocacy groups engaged in political speech under the protections of the First Amendment. Our adversaries are now put on notice. If you abuse your legal or regulatory powers to silence the NRA, we will stand and fight – and we will prevail.

The historical fact is no one has produced results in defending Second Amendment rights and American freedoms like the NRA. Working together, we will never be silenced from representing our members or fighting to protect America’s constitutional freedoms.

Please join me in congratulating Josh and Joe.

Wayne