Politico

Opinion | Want to Cure NRA Corruption? Let a Gun-Loving Democrat Run It.


Much of America just learned what I have known for many years: The senior leadership of the National Rifle Association is thoroughly corrupt.

Last week, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced her intent to legally terminate the NRA. The 169-page complaint alleges flamboyantly extravagant travel, double-dipping by high-ranking insiders, egregiously bloated salaries for the executive elite and recurring and abusive violations of NRA’s own bylaws by members of the board of directors.

Twelve years ago, I wrote a book called Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, in which I questioned some of these same transgressions. During my time lobbying for the NRA, which overlapped the early rise of Wayne LaPierre I had watched as his business buddies and pet consultants took control of decision-making at the upper echelons of the organization. Though I’m not entirely surprised by the detailed specifics James laid out in her lawsuit, I was taken aback by the sheer quantity. As a life member of the NRA I am disappointed by the feckless senior leadership of my beloved organization whose stated goals I still fervently support.

But I am outraged by James’ attempt to deprive millions of middle-class, dues-paying gun owners of their rights to organize, collectively communicate, advocate, petition their government and mutually support candidates of their choosing. James, a Democrat, made clear her hatred of the NRA while running for office two years ago. In July 2018, she promised to investigate the NRA’s “legitimacy” as a nonprofit organization. Later, she called it “a terrorist organization.”

Did she mean the leadership are terrorists or the millions of loyal, patriotic citizens (350,000 plus from New York state alone) who are members? If James can “dissolve” one of the largest and most powerful political organizations in America because of the corruption of a few scammers at the helm, she will have the power to disenfranchise millions of Americans of their First Amendment rights simply because she disagrees with their policy. That overreach is a political gift to conservatives; the fundraising letters from NRA headquarters are landing in mailboxes as I write. “This is nothing more than a disgusting, brazen attempt by gun-ban politicians to shackle freedom and leave regular, law-abiding Americans defenseless,” reads one.


Of course, these aggrieved letters from LaPierre make no mention of the fact that he and other NRA execs allegedly squandered as much as $64 million over just three years on personal travel for their families. LaPierre alone took eight trips to the Bahamas and safaris to Africa. My fellow NRA members, roughly 5 million of them, should be repulsed when they digest the specifics of the greedy con game LaPierre’s minions have perpetrated with their hard-earned contributions. But I fear that they will be more incensed by James’ anti-gun rights agenda and reflexively rally to protect a cancerous core at NRA headquarters.

As much as I object to James’ efforts to take down the NRA entirely, it does offer an opportunity for reform. And I would encourage the group to undertake the reform itself before a judge does it for them. The millions of NRA members deserve an NRA that operates to benefit them, not the gun industry, not lucrative sweetheart deals for vendors and certainly not eye-bulging salaries for senior staff coupled with private jets, yachts and Caribbean getaways.

First, LaPierre needs to go. Nothing can happen until the face of the corruption changes.

Second, the unwieldy 76-member board of directors should be removed and replaced with one that is a third the size and whose members are elected for three-year terms. A smaller, engaged board can provide the missing oversight into the activities of the organization and prevent wholesale abuses before they become business as usual.

But the boldest move of all, the one that could truly rescue this beleaguered organization would be to hire a well-known pro-gun Democrat as the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm—the Institute for Legislative Action. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. That breed of Democrat, which used to be common in Congress (Reps. John Dingell, of Michigan andJack Brooks, of Texas; and Idaho Sen. Frank Church, all sadly deceased, come to mind). But their ideological descendants are numerous, even if they’re no longer in Congress. There are former Reps. Bill Brewster and Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike Ross of Arkansas or Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

It would signal a return to a more bipartisan approach to advocacy. The very thing that made the NRA the envy of every other organization in the 1980s and 90s was that it was a grass-roots organization, representing different perspectives and disciplines within the vast shooting sports community. The NRA must face the fact that it has become the National Republican Association, and this is not in the interests of millions of Democrats, independents or even moderate Republicans who own guns or support the right to do so. An overt appeal to a more bipartisan approach would detoxify the NRA’s hyperpartisan culture-war approach and begin the process of making headway on sound legislation that targets the misuse of firearms without interfering with legitimate, constitutionally protected enjoyment and defensive use of guns. Indeed, done correctly, it would enhance our Second Amendment rights.

Moreover, by detaching itself from its exclusive branding relationship with the Republican party, the NRA could reverse its sliding membership base by actually appealing to a wider pool of potential members. And if all that happens, it will mean more money to protect pro-gun gains, promulgate pro-gun policies and far less money in the pockets of people like LaPierre.

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Lisa

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