For the National Rifle Association, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. When taking stock of the former, the far-right organization has never had the kind of expansive political influence it now enjoys. The White House and both houses of Congress bend to the NRA’s will in ways few, if any, advocacy organizations can claim.
But then there’s everything else.
The NRA has been forced to confront questions, for example, about whether Russians used the group to illegally funnel campaign money to benefit Donald Trump. Complicating matters, the recent indictment against Maria Butina suggested the Kremlin used Russian operatives to influence Republican politics by using the NRA as a point of leverage.
Mother Jones’ David Corn reported today that the spy scandal may have contributed to a major leadership shake-up at the organization.
And then there’s the group’s finances. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson had this unexpected report today:
The National Rifle Association warns that it is in grave financial jeopardy, according to a recent court filing obtained by Rolling Stone, and that it could soon “be unable to exist … or pursue its advocacy mission.”
The reason, according to the NRA filing, is not its deep entanglement with alleged Russian agents like Maria Butina. Instead, the gun group has been suing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s financial regulators since May, claiming the NRA has been subject to a state-led “blacklisting campaign” that has inflicted “tens of millions of dollars in damages.”
For NRA critics who have long dreamed of doing real harm to the group, wondering what it would take to hit the organization where it hurts, the answer, apparently, was … insurance?
I won’t pretend to be an expert in institutional insurance policies, but Tim Dickinson’s Rolling Stone report describes developments in which the state of New York cracked down on a highly dubious, NRA-branded insurance policy called “Carry Guard.” The idea, evidently, was to extend some kind of liability coverage to customers who incurred legal costs as a result of firing their weapons.
According to the NRA’s latest legal filing, however, New York was “not content to block this single insurance product, but instead campaigned to sever the NRA’s ties to a wide range of financial service providers, from insurance companies to banks.”
And now, the group claims, the NRA finds itself struggling to buy proper insurance and gain access to necessary financial services. That, the legal filing alleges, has created an existential problem for the organization.
So, how excited should the NRA’s critics be? (Or conversely, how worried should its supporters be?) Some restraint is probably in order. As Jeet Heer noted, “Because it has launched a lawsuit, it is in the NRA’s interest to make the most extravagant claims about damages. It’s by no means clear that the NRA is really facing collapse or if it is exaggerating to win legal sympathy – and perhaps raise more money.”
That last point is of particular interest. Advocacy groups routinely warn their members that they’re in desperate need of immediate contributions, and it’s easy to imagine the NRA sending out desperate fundraising appeals, warning that its doors will soon close – at the hands of a rascally New York Democratic governor – without the support of loyal donors.
I’m not in a position to reflect with confidence on the NRA’s books, but the group’s track record on honesty is – let’s be generous – suspect. The group certainly made some terrified claims in a court filing, but it remains to be seen whether those claims are true.