NY attorney general sues to 'dissolve' the NRA 'in its entirety'

New York's attorney general's office doesn't intend to simply slap the NRA on the wrist. It hopes to "dissolve the organization in its entirety."
Image: President Donald Trump shakes hands with NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre
President Donald Trump shakes hands with National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as he arrives for the National Rifle Association Leadership Forum on April 28, 2017, in Atlanta.Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP file
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By Steve Benen

In April 2019, as former NRA president Oliver North was ousted from his post, North said in his resignation letter that there's "a clear crisis" within the right-wing organization. As of this morning, it's probably fair to say the group's crisis has intensified.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she has filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association and four individuals, including longtime leader Wayne LaPierre, seeking to dissolve the gun rights advocacy group for "diverting charitable funds to support wasteful spending."

According to NBC News' report, the Democratic AG accused the organization of engaging in illegal conduct by diverting "millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty."

James' case doesn't intend to simply slap the NRA on the wrist. She told reporters this morning, "My office filed a lawsuit to dissolve the organization in its entirety."

To be sure, that's an ambitious goal that wouldn't happen anytime soon: a case like this is likely to unfold over the course of years. That said, Letitia James' office also sought to dissolve Donald Trump's corrupt charitable foundation -- and it is no more.

The allegations that have surfaced over the last couple of years suggests prosecutors targeting the NRA will certainly have plenty to work with. I'm reminded of a Washington Post report from last summer on many unpaid NRA board members benefiting financially from the group.

The NRA, which has been rocked by allegations of exorbitant spending by top executives, also directed money in recent years that went to board members -- the very people tasked with overseeing the organization's finances.... The payments received by about one-quarter of board members, the extent of which has not previously been reported, deepen questions about the rigor of the board's oversight as it steered the country's largest and most powerful gun rights group, according to tax experts and some longtime members.

While the NRA denied any wrongdoing, the Post spoke to Douglas Varley, an attorney who specializes in tax-exempt organizations. "In 25 years of working in this field, I have never seen a pattern like this," Varley said. "The volume of transactions with insiders and affiliates of insiders is really astonishing."

As we discussed at the time, if this were the only sign of trouble for the organization, it might've been easier to shrug off. But it was part of an avalanche of questions surrounding the NRA's use -- and alleged misuse -- of its resources.

The New York Times also reported last summer, "As the gun rights group lavished pay and perks on its leaders and partners, fueling infighting, it increasingly relied on its own charity for funds. Tax experts have questions."

Evidently, so do lawyers in the New York attorney general's office.