Leaked NRA documents show bigger problems than outrageous sweetheart perks, accountants say

Wayne LaPierre.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A cache of internal National Rifle Association documents posted online last week listed some pretty eyebrow-raising expenses. CEO Wayne LaPierre — who earns more than $1.4 million a year — charged $275,000 at a Zegna men's clothing store in Beverley Hills, for example, and another $267,000 in personal expenses on trips to Budapest, the Bahamas, Florida, and an Italian lake resort. All these bills were channeled through the NRA's estranged longtime ad firm, Ackerman McQueen.

Recently ousted NRA President Oliver North reaped more than $1 million a year hosting a web-only show on Ackerman McQueen's NRATV, a channel with "minuscule web traffic" that is nonetheless the "signature product" in its $40 million annual haul from the NRA, The New York Times reports. Other NRA board members, executives, and friends also got fat consulting fees or other payments.

But the NRA has "deeper financial problems," the Times reports. A review of tax records revealed that the NRA "has increasingly relied on cash infusions and other transactions involving its affiliated foundation — at least $206 million worth since 2010." New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the NRA and also its charitable arm; both are tax exempt, but only the NRA is allowed to use its donations for political activities. The documents raised red flags for tax experts.

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The large money transfers from the foundation to the NRA are "substantial related-party transactions," Marcus Owen, a former head of the IRS's tax-exempt organizations branch, tells the Times, and "in normal times, they would attract regulatory attention from the IRS and a state attorney general." David Nelson, a former Ernst & Young partner who specialized in tax-exempt groups, says is appears "the NRA itself is in very poor financial health and they're being subsidized in large part by their foundation."

The NRA says reports of its financial problems are vastly overstated and it has followed appropriate accounting rules. Read more about the money woes and NRA civil war at The New York Times.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.