You probably saw the fireworks last week and over the weekend in which the two top leaders of the National Rifle Association publicly accused each other of corruption and tried to kick each other out of the organization. Wayne LaPierre, who has essentially owned the NRA for a couple decades, appears to have won that battle. Oliver North, who announced he will not run for another term, lost. But I want to talk about some dimensions and implications of this implosion that may be less clear.
New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, has just launched an investigation into the NRA. An investigation is just an investigation of course. But the organization meets this one on particularly wobbly footing since you’ve just had its two top leaders accusing each other of the kinds of self-dealing and corruption that can lose or at least endanger an organization’s non-profit status. You also have the recently filed lawsuit – part of that dispute – which provides at least the beginnings of a roadmap for that kind of investigation.
What I didn’t realize until this weekend were the full dimensions of the NRA’s relationship to New York State. A state Attorney General has standing to investigate any organization doing business in their state. In this case, the NRA (ironically) is based in New York State. That’s where it’s chartered as an organization in 1871, even though it’s long been headquartered in Virginia.
I got all that. But I’d figured it would be at least a relatively simple matter to reregister in another state. It’s not. Tim Mak discussed this on Twitter over the weekend. Not only does a potential move implicate all of the organization’s contracts, assets, legal status etc, there’s something specific under New York State law. According to Mak, under New York state law an organization like the NRA needs the permission of the Attorney General to dissolve and reestablish itself in another state.
I’m sure the NRA’s lawyers are hard at work on this. And even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s not like there will cease to be NRA supporters and people wanting to throw money at it. The point is that this investigation is not something the NRA can easily disentangle itself from. It’s a big deal.
Which brings us back to the NRA’s role in the 2020 election.
The NRA played a big, big role in the 2016 election for Donald Trump, spending dramatically more than it had in previous elections. Part of that pivotal role was tied to the fact that the Trump campaign proper had little ground operation for the general election. The NRA basically supplied one. The organization spent $30 million supporting Donald Trump and over $55 million in total, according to formal reporting. These numbers have escalated dramatically over the last four election cycles. But the actual spending was likely far higher since a lot of its field organizing work doesn’t have to be reported.
It’s hard to imagine, as the incumbent, that Trump’s campaign will be similarly unprepared for 2020. But the NRA is still a critical part of the GOP’s coalitional apparatus. Between financial woes and serious legal problems, it’s hard to imagine they won’t be seriously distracted and hobbled through 2020 in parts of the country that are critical for President Trump’s reelection.