New Orleans Usually when the National Rifle Association, better known as the NRA, is in the news, it’s bad news for the rest of us. Usually it means that they are once again painting themselves and a few of their toadying politicians in a corner while they defend the indefensible, like standing in the way of even the mildest gun law reforms after mass shootings killing scores. For a change there was some news of a different sort giving the public a glimpse of the big money madness and internal conflict within the ostensibly nonprofit organization. The drama-rama of the NRA is more comedy than tragedy and probably more in the order of a B-roll from the “Game of Thrones” that wasn’t good enough to make it on air with HBO.
News reports indicate that the NRA sued its longtime, multi-decade media and public relations firm, Oklahoma City-based Ackerman McQueen, the architect of much of its “wrest the gun out of my old dead hands” branding. The suit argues that the PR firm and its subsidiaries were more than happy to put their hot hands on $40 million of the NRA resources, but were unwilling to provide backup details, as required by their contract, on how the money was really spent. Ackerman McQueen claims that they already have the information and that they have cooperated fully with the NRA on these requests, but there’s a Notre Dame level of smoke coming out of this case for there not to be some actual fire, especially since the NRA, Ackerman McQueen, and its chief Wayne LaPierre, as the expression goes, have been “thick as thieves” for decades.
Adding fuel to this fire is the fact that Ackerman McQueen manages NRATV. The streaming channel is often called the “voice of the NRA,” and has endured its own controversy over hair-on-fire messaging complete with KKK hoods for children and wild accusations that have positioned the organization farther and farther to the extreme right. Oliver North, the chair of the NRA, infamous as the Lt. Colonel in the Iran-Contra scandals, has a contract with NRATV and has been refusing without their permission to disclose the details, despite the NRA claiming correctly that as a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit it has to report such information on its IRS 990 filing. The board reportedly is divided between pro-and-anti Ackerman McQueen forces, catching LaPierre in middle to boot, though the majority obviously had the votes to file the suit, partially because the NRA’s membership is falling and the $300 million a year operation has shown losses both of the last two years. The anti-Ackerman members seem to believe that the rightwing extremism could hurt their second amendment fights. Hard to pick sides on that one.
What does seem truly Shakespearean is the accusations of conflicts of interest between Ackerman McQueen and the NRA’s outside lawyer, William A. Brewer III. Ackerman McQueen says he has a conflict of interest because their two top officials in the PR firm are his father-in-law and brother-in-law. Wow! That must be a tense Thanksgiving dinner! Others snipe at the fact that Brewer and his firm are charging the NRA one-million per month, largely to handle the New York State lawsuit where the NRA is alleging an infringement on their first amendment rights since New York has argued that financial services companies should refrain from joint ventures and branding with the NRA. Brewer defends his fees saying his law firm is a “premium” outfit.
Who knows where the fire is? The rest of us can hope that it keeps raging, like a fire in a forest or the fields, allowing something new to grow.