The National Rifle Association believes itself to be the victim of a “bitter, insidious irony,” the firearms lobby said in a new lawsuit filed Wednesday against its longtime vendor Ackerman McQueen.
The advertising firm — referred to as AMc in the suit — has allegedly been leaking documents to the press that the NRA sued last month to get ahold of in what the firearms lobby calls “a series of sordid, out-of-context ‘leaks’ engineered by AMc to harm its client.”
The NRA sued AMc in April to access documents, ostensibly to audit the pair’s relationship and to investigate allegations that the Oklahoma City-based firm was over-billing the NRA.
Now, the NRA is seeking $40 million in damages from AMc, accusing it of using the leaks to foment a coup that would have toppled longtime NRA chief Wayne LaPierre in favor of Iran-Contra notable and then-NRA president Oliver North.
“The bitter, insidious irony is that the records leaked by AMc contain some of the same information the NRA had persistently requested from AMc over the course of many months, in an effort to strengthen its own internal controls,” the gun group argues in a complaint, filed in the State of Virginia’s Alexandria circuit court.
AMc has worked with the NRA since the early 1980s, putting together some of its most famous advertising campaigns, including Charlton Heston’s unforgettable post-Columbine “from my cold dead hands” crowd-killer. More recently, it has handled the contract for NRATV, the gun group’s hard-right online TV channel. The NRA has said in court filings that it pays AMc up to $40 million annually — the same amount sought in this week’s lawsuit.
AMc replied with its own counterclaim Thursday morning in an apparent bid to outshoot the NRA — demanding $50 million from the gun group while accusing it of filing lawsuits as a way of ginning up cause to cancel the pair’s contract without paying a hefty severance fee.
The ad firm also says that the NRA did not have board approval to file the first lawsuit in April, deepening the mystery of why the two entities have been willing to duke it out in public in such a mutually damaging way.
The NRA says in its Wednesday filing — first reported by the Daily Beast — that AMc retaliated against its first legal claim by recruiting Oliver North to participate in “fomenting a (failed) executive coup.”
“Motivated to avoid scrutiny of their own business activities, a handful of faithless fiduciaries within (and without) AMc conspired to conceal important information, ‘kill’ any ‘messenger’ who tried to unearth that information, and ultimately wrest control of the NRA by fomenting a (failed) executive coup,” the filing reads.
The NRA refers to an “increasingly brazen” pattern of contractual breaches, including an episode where North allegedly called a LaPierre aide and threatened to leak damaging letters about him.
The attempt failed, but a leak occurred anyway.
On May 10, two weeks after the failed “coup,” a trove of letters sent by AMc’s chief financial officer to Wayne LaPierre were posted anonymously online. The letters suggested that LaPierre could face serious questions from New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating the organization.
It’s not clear who released the documents. But in the lawsuit, the NRA heavily implies that the leaks to the media were calculated to “cause maximum reputational damage to the leadership of the NRA.”
The NRA says that AMc “cynically leaked selected portions of confidential business records that were curated to convey a misleading, dire picture of the NRA’s finances, operations, and expense-accounting practices” to various news outlets.
The leaked documents suggested that LaPierre used AMc as a conduit to shield personal expenses from the NRA itself. The letters claimed that AMc had issued LaPierre a credit card, which he then used to make luxury purchases. AMc then billed the NRA for purchases made on the card.
Some of those purchases included travel to Europe, while another section covered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Ermenegildo Zegna suits, bought over a 13-year period from a store in Beverly Hills.
The Wednesday suit goes out of its way to defend LaPierre, saying that this occurred “based on AMc’s advice, and subject to billing procedures AMc set up.”
“Of course, AMc should not have incurred (let alone sought reimbursement for) any expenses which it believed inappropriate,” the filing reads. “AMc knows full well that these particular expenses were proper — because it was deeply involved in their incurrence.”
The NRA says that in early May, after the leaks began in earnest, it asked “senior executives” at AMc to make “sworn declarations attesting that they had not violated their confidentiality obligations.”
“AMc flatly refused to provide any cooperation or assurances whatsoever,” the lawsuit reads.
Read the NRA’s new complaint here: