It’s no secret this year’s National Rifle Associations’ Annual Meeting turned into a bare-knuckle brawl between Wayne LaPierre, his supporters and detractors demanding a housecleaning of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. The brawl broke out after a series of highly unflattering, but well-documented reports spoke of long-term, systemic abuses under Mr. LaPierre’s long-running administration.
I was there, so I reported what I saw happening. It was a power struggle. And when the dust cleared, it was once again proven that you don’t win a title fight on the scorecard.
If you’re going to beat the champ, you have to knock the champ down- and, preferably, out.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the LaPierre camp staged its own housecleaning. Gone were the NRA President (Oliver North), the next-in-line (Richard Childress) and, ultimately, the second-in-command of the entire organization (NRA-ILA head Chris Cox).
And I wasn’t in the nearly nine-hour board of directors meeting, but I do know from those who were that it wasn’t pretty. And afterwards, the BoD -which had contained more than a few very vocal critics, all promising “we’re fed up and we’re going to get a change” had turned into mutes.
Today, many of them still don’t return phone calls. Several of them have “lawyered up” for what they anticipate is in their future.
There are lawsuits and counter-lawsuits flying between the NRA and their longtime support agency, Ackerman-McQueen. They have taken the “he said-she said” nature of the nastiest divorce cases and applied them to civil law.
Then there’s the matter of the Attorney General of the State of New York and her ongoing investigation of the NRA’s 501 (c) 4 tax status. Attorney General Letitia James has made no secret of her feelings about the NRA and Mr. LaPierre, she wants one gone, and the other hauled away in handcuffs. One would be quite a trophy, both would make the career of a progressive lawmaker-and her boss who also has aspirations to higher office.
Those are things I know. And they’re things I reported because I had either verified, or seen the documentation first-hand.
Since those reports, we’ve regularly gotten notes from readers who are angry that we’re not “reporting on what’s going on at the NRA”. We’ve not reported anything because everything that’s come out to this point has been the result of another news groups’ enterprise reporting. Enterprise reporting is a term for the old-fashioned way of reporting - sending reporters to follow leads, talk with contacts and then assemble a coherent, balanced and verified story.
Today, there’s something new to report. Not because “sources” have given me information- that’s never stopped. Rather, I’ve spoken with the principals in the story.
Last week, the New York Times printed a story that featured an interview with a “restive donor” named David Dell’ Aquila. In it, Dell’ Aquila made it clear that he, and other donors, believed the NRA’s internal fights had “become a daily soap opera and it’s decaying and destroying the NRA from within”.
In that article, Dell’Aquila said he was suspending donations to the NRA- and that he wasn’t alone in what is essentially “voting with your wallet.” If the NRA wouldn’t listen, he reasoned, there was no reason to send money for NRA officials to spend as they pleased.
Yesterday, I spent some time with Dell’Aquila, and found him to be anything but the rabble-rousing type. A self-confessed “hermit” he’s only speaking out because of his concern that the “majority of NRA members” have absolutely no idea what’s been going on inside the organization many of them consider the only truly formidable defender of the Second Amendment.
Dell’Aquila seems to agree. But that agreement is why he believes a housekeeping is no longer an option.
“I have nothing but respect for Mr. LaPierre,” he told me, “but the negative optics that are constantly being reported in the media only tarnish his ultimate legacy.”
What about those who consider Mr. LaPierre to be a dictator, I asked. “I’m not going to be as aggressive with my description,” he said quietly, “I would refer to him as ‘The King’”.
The problem, he says, is that the NRA is being marginalized, solely because “the King believes he is the best one to govern the NRA kingdom.”
For that reason, Dell’Aquila says, he has to be removed. “Ultimately, he will be removed,” he says simply, “involuntarily if need be, but he needs to go.”
“There were NRA leaders before Mr. LaPierre,” he says, “and there will be NRA leaders after him.”
What about the charges and counter-charges flying back-and-forth between the NRA, it’s former PR firm, and former NRA executives?
“That’s not the point,” he said simply, “This has to move to another level. It’s time to look at the situation from the members’ standpoint.”
“Today, the board of directors provides oversight to Mr. LaPierre, it’s supposed to be the other way around. The CEO is supposed to report to the Board. And because of the way things are run today, the Board has failed in its fiduciary responsibility. Now, the organization is looking at the possibility of losing its tax exempt status, and the internal fighting is making it easier for New York’s Attorney General to prove the organization’s not being governed properly.”
Rather than continue to press for change from inside the recognized hierarchy, Dell’Aquila and his group of disgruntled donors are asking other donors and NRA members to join them in putting a list of demands to the organization.
It’s quite a list, and posted at helpsavethenra.com (along with a link to the original New York Times article). From the immediate resignations of LaPierre, the NRA Officers, Executive Directors, Managing Directors and Josh Powell (named individually because “he’s there, he’s a problem, but no one can determine just what he does”), to the removal of NRA President Carolyn Meadows. The Board would reduce from the present 76 members to just 30, with no former presidents allowed, and expenses being limited to compensation for travel and expenses to/from Board meetings.
It seems the Board of Directors meetings themselves have helped put many donors’ teeth on edge.
“Why aren’t Board meetings held at the headquarters, or an easily accessible city,” Dell’Aquila asked.
“The next board meeting is set for Anchorage, Alaska - and they’re going on a fishing cruise while they’re there…that’s not what I’ve been donating for. I doubt anyone else is donating for them to take trips like that, either. That’s not how a responsible Board behaves.”
At that point, I had to wonder just how much support Dell’Aquila actually had for what was essentially advocating a massive housekeeping. After all, while I disagree with the NRA’s characterization of the efforts to remove Mr. LaPierre as a “coup” (he’s an executive, not the head of a government), I have seen firsthand what happens with those who have advocated a far shorter list of changes.
What Dell’Aquila offered as evidence of the growing frustration and concern about the organization by members and donors was a list of donations and gifts being withheld or revoked.
It totaled nearly $135-million dollars in annual gifts, estates, advertising and other support, but it is a lot of money for an organization that regularly sends out urgent requests for funds. And, as a phone call while we were talking proved, the list is growing. Between texts, emails and calls from other members, reporters and donors, keeping a conversation on track was, at times, impossible.
So what will it take to calm you and your donors down, I asked.
“Easy,” he told me, “the NRA has to operate with total transparency. Every organization that gets a dollar from the NRA should be listed, along with what the dollars were used for, every dollar the NRA spends should be accounted for, and, most importantly, before those dollars are spent, the managers and the Board should ask ‘is this good for the NRA - does it help achieve our mission’ - and if it doesn’t, they shouldn’t spend the money.”
At this point, what Dell’Aquila’s proposing has been limited to a small circle of NRA contributors and supporters. And he recognizes that by even suggesting such radical changes, he’s making instant enemies of many of the same people who have counted on his support.
“I’m not doing this for me,” he says simply, “I’m not doing this because I want to, either. I’m doing this because I believe if someone doesn’t do something, we’re all going to lose.”
We’ll keep you posted.