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The NRA’s Latest Round Of Lawsuits Raises A Whole New Set Of Questions

A convention goer passes the NRA desk at the 2015 NRA Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee on April 10, 2015. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit, expected to draw over 70,000 people, runs till April 12. AFP PHO... A convention goer passes the NRA desk at the 2015 NRA Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee on April 10, 2015. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit, expected to draw over 70,000 people, runs till April 12. AFP PHOTO / KAREN BLEIER / AFP PHOTO / KAREN BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS
May 24, 2019 12:09 p.m.

The NRA slapped its longtime ad firm with a new suit on Wednesday, accusing it of leaking the very documents that it’s been trying to obtain through its first suit. The ad firm — Ackerman McQueen — fired back on Thursday with a $50 million counterclaim against the NRA.

The cases raise more questions than they answer.

First off, Ackerman notes in its counterclaim that the first lawsuit the NRA filed against it — back in April — was made without the authorization of the gun rights group’s board.

That’s fascinating for a number of reasons, and jives with some chatter I heard from speaking with NRA members.

Specifically, when the NRA first sued Ackerman in April, there were many questions regarding how the lawsuit ended up being filed. Some of the key allegations of self-dealing around the NRA concern supposed sweetheart deals between Ackerman and NRA execs, while the pair’s relationship has been so close and so long-lasting that many refused to believe a falling out had actually taken place.

Beyond that, questions lingered over who within the NRA gave the order to file the suit. The non-profit’s board of directors is officially authorized to do so, but rumors suggested that just as much of the alleged self-dealing occurred without board oversight, so did the lawsuit that arguably emerged as a consequence of it.

That still raises serious questions, however. If this is all the result of a power struggle within the NRA between an Ackerman-Oliver North axis and NRA execs, then how solid is the board of directors on this? Why did Wayne LaPierre presumably decide to file a lawsuit that would air the group’s massive amount of financial dirty laundry? And, perhaps most crucially, how acute is the risk felt from New York Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation and to what extent is that risk driving all the turmoil?

In the counterclaim, the PR firm also accuses the NRA of trying to shift “the spotlight away from the NRA’s troubles and setting up Lt. Col. North and AMc [Ackerman] to be the scapegoat in the national news.”

In addition to raising new questions, both filings help flesh out the timeline of the NRA’s financial troubles in 2018. These new details manage to be at once revealing and mystifying.

In summer 2018, the NRA began to undertake a systemic audit of its vendors. The group states that this effort was motivated by New York State legal requirements, where the group has been chartered since 1871. We also know from regulatory filings that the NRA had been hemorrhaging both cash and memberships since Trump’s 2016 election, when gun enthusiasts’ fears that Hillary Clinton acolytes were going to come take everyone’s guns began to wane.

The non-profit was also facing real pressure from New York state regulators over a surreal insurance policy it was offering called Carry Guard.

In a July 2018 court filing, the NRA says that pressure from New York state had put it in peril. Specifically, the group states that it “has encountered serious difficulties obtaining corporate insurance coverage, media liability coverage, and basic banking services.”

Ackerman was allegedly the only vendor to refuse to hand over documents after the audit began. That’s also when strange things supposedly began to happen in the pair’s relationship.

The NRA’s suit against Ackerman recounts how, in August 2018, the gun group began to notice press reports that relied on anonymous sources either within Ackerman, or who formerly worked at Ackerman.

“The NRA’s trust in its longtime collaborator dissuaded it from requiring an immediate and full scale investigation,” the NRA writes in the lawsuit of its immediate reaction to the press reports. 

I laughed aloud when I read that last line, given what’s happened since.

The new lawsuit also accuses a top Ackerman exec of trying to extort the NRA in an August 27, 2018 letter about the NRA’s document request. The court filing says that the Ackerman exec told the NRA that the firm “identified several categories of items, some related to travel and entertainment, which it warned would be encompassed in a full production of those records — perhaps believing that the threat of such disclosure would dampen the NRA’s demands for transparency.”

We’ve seen allegations around exotic travel and lavish Italian suits — but entertainment? I’m looking forward to those allegations coming out.

Some other questions that remain: If the situation was so dire in summer 2018, how have things changed since? Why did the NRA file its lawsuit against Ackerman in April 2019, weeks before its annual meeting, and not months before? And at what point did relations between the NRA and Ackerman deteriorate to the point that the ad firm apparently believed it could extort its way out of the situation?

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