Brad Schneider’s op-ed in Newsweek on why he’s calling for the IRS to investigate the National Rifle Association.
By Brad Schneider, U.S Representative, IL-10
If you can believe it, when the National Rifle Association was founded as a not-for-profit organization almost 150 years ago, the stated goal of its founder was to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” While it may have adhered to that mission in the past, today’s NRA has strayed far from its founding principles.
The modern NRA advocates for reckless policies that can allow guns to fall into dangerous hands. Its spokespeople verbally attack student survivors of mass shootings. And, according to recent news reports, its executives appear to have improperly directed the donations from its rank-and-file members to line their own pockets.
For a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, such blatant self-dealing would constitute more than just bad press. It would be a violation of the state and federal laws that govern tax-exempt organizations. If the allegations are true, American taxpayers should not be forced to effectively subsidize the efforts of the NRA’s leadership to bilk their members to enrich themselves.
The alleged pattern of self-dealing, deceptive billing and skirting of transparency reaches the highest levels of the NRA.
One glaring example: The NRA paid more than $40 million in 2017 to its longtime public relations firm Ackerman McQueen with scant documentation on how that money has been spent. There do, however, appear to be many close personal and financial links between Ackerman McQueen and top NRA executives. In addition, leaked internal documents suggest that hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled from the firm to pay for NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s luxury clothing and lavish travel. LaPierre, already one of the highest-paid nonprofit executives in the nation, has also reportedly secured what amounts to a lifetime contract, assuring he is paid for consulting services and personal appearances after his employment.
Former NRA President Oliver North has also allegedly massively benefited from the NRA’s relationship with Ackerman McQueen. Days after accepting the uncompensated role of board president at the NRA, he reportedly signed a contract with the firm worth roughly $1 million a year.
Despite lavish spending at the leadership level, just one-10th of the NRA’s money is directed toward activities that many members would recognize as nonprofit activity, such as gun safety, training and education, according to The New Yorker.
These examples raise a sea of red flags. The former head of the tax-exempt enterprises division within the IRS, Marc Owens, told The New Yorker that the NRA’s records present “one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen” and suggested they could lead to the revocation of the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
Fortunately, elected officials are catching on to the NRA’s alleged problematic behavior. Earlier this month, three members of the Senate Committee on Finance—Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Robert Menendez of New Jersey—sent letters to LaPierre, North and Ackerman McQueen to turn over “letters, third-party audits, memos and other materials as they look into allegations of self-dealing and examine the NRA’s nonprofit status,” The Washington Post reported. The New York attorney general’s office has also begun an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status and issued subpoenas.
When Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George came before the Ways and Means Committee, I posed the self-dealing allegations against the NRA to him as hypotheticals. He said the arrangements were “concerning” and “would raise questions,” and he agreed they would warrant further investigation. I also sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting he investigate these allegations and determine whether the NRA’s tax-exempt status has been abused.
Fundamentally, we are a nation of laws, which must be as applicable to powerful organizations such as the NRA as they are to you, me or any other citizen. In the face of this overwhelming evidence, the IRS must fully and fairly investigate the NRA, and if it finds the organization has operated outside the bounds of a nonprofit charitable organization, it should revoke the group’s nonprofit status.