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NRA Spent Thousands on Covert Campaign to Keep Wayne LaPierre in Power

For more than two decades, the National Rifle Association has used member money to fund a covert campaign to keep Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and his loyalists in power.

That’s the story told in a recently released episode of Gangster Capitalism, a podcast that dedicated its second season to an examination of the NRA’s history and recent turmoil.

In the episode, NRA instructor and member Dezarae Payne describes how her husband, Paul Payne, from whom she is separated, has since the late 1990s worked secretly to tilt board elections in favor of LaPierre. Paul Payne has been an NRA employee, administrator of the NRA Members’ Councils of California, a state affiliate, and a liaison to LaPierre.

Dezarae Payne told the podcast that every year LaPierre’s office gives Paul Payne the names of NRA board candidates considered allies of the longtime boss of the gun group. Payne then works through the council to lobby NRA members in California to vote for those candidates. Because such a small percentage of members take part in the annual mail ballot election for board seats, Dezarea Payne said, her husband’s electioneering has routinely been critical to victory.

All but one of the NRA’s 76 board members are elected by mail-in ballot, and serve three-year terms. The final board member, who serves a one-year term, is chosen in-person by members at the NRA’s annual convention.

Every year, Dezarea Payne said, her husband solicits volunteers who are flown to the convention to encourage members to back LaPierre’s favored candidate for the one-year term. These volunteers are given free concert and event tickets at the convention, and treated to a lavish dinner with LaPierre and his key aides. Payne said the trip costs the NRA $35,000 to $45,000 and has been a clandestine affair. “You have to be completely loyal to Wayne,” she said of the volunteers, who typically number up to a dozen. “You can’t question what they are doing, you have to be secretive, you can’t tell people what you are doing, who you work for.”

She said that the NRA, meanwhile, has paid Paul Payne $80,000 a year, $36,000 for expenses, plus benefits and has provided him an assistant, who is paid $60,000 annually.

Michael Schwartz, a gun rights advocate from San Diego who used to belong to the members’ councils, confirmed Dezarea Payne’s account. “The attitude from Paul Payne was very strange,” Schwartz said in regard to an NRA convention trip he made at Payne’s urging. “He was treating it like it was some kind of covert military op, which was beyond ridiculous. He had us staying at a hotel that was away from the convention center. We were told not to talk to any NRA employees or any NRA board members. We were told not to tell anybody why we were there.”

Schwartz said he was enthusiastic about the trip at first, then doubts arose. “It did not seem entirely ethical for the NRA to fund volunteers to come help get a board member elected at the direction of an NRA employee,” he said, “it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

The episode ends with Dezarae Payne delivering a message to NRA supporters: “Your money is not getting you a board member that’s representing you. Your activism right now is going to pay for somebody who is rigging the election to keep Wayne in power.”