The National Rifle Association’s longtime imagemaker fired a broader and deeper array of accusations against its former client than previously known after being sued by the NRA, according to a recently filed court document.
Advertising agency Ackerman McQueen suggested in an April letter that a top NRA fundraiser had run up more than $450,000 in expenses on an American Express card that were then billed back to the non-profit.
The arrangement is strikingly similar to one used by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, in which Ackerman issued LaPierre a credit card, the expenses for which it then charged back to the NRA.
The letter emerged after the NRA sued Ackerman in April in a bid to obtain financial records documenting the pair’s relationship. Since then, an internecine struggle has wracked the group’s board. That battle pits former NRA President Oliver North against the gun group’s longtime chief Wayne LaPierre.
The document focuses on Tyler Schropp, the executive director of the NRA’s office of advancement, a fundraising position at the non-profit that focuses on high-dollar members. The April 22 memo, sent by Ackerman Chief Financial Officer William Winkler to Schropp, is titled “RE: Documentation of expenses incurred by Ackerman McQueen (AMc) and billed to the National Rifle Association (NRA).”
Winkler sent the letter after the NRA filed its lawsuit, demanding that the gun group document expenses Ackerman had incurred for its client.
“Due to NRA demands in the lawsuit, we are notifying you that you have failed to provide written approvals, receipts, and other support for expenses related to your travel, entertainment, etc.,” the letter reads.
Winkler sent the letter with a batch of other missives that were posted anonymously online in May, demanding explanations for lavish expenses that Ackerman apparently incurred on behalf of LaPierre.
The letter to Schropp does not appear to have been included in the earlier leak.
Rather, it appeared in a batch of letters released in an exhibit by attorneys with the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating the non-profit over allegations of self-dealing, unauthorized political activity, and potential false statements in regulatory filings.
In the letter to Schropp, Ackerman demands documentation for the $454,842 in expenses incurred on the card.
Those cover a period of time from May 2013 to September 2018, when Ackerman and the NRA’s relationship began to deteriorate.
It’s not clear that the expenses themselves were personal; in his capacity as a fundraiser targeting wealthy NRA donors, Schropp was expected to host the moneyed elite, and to travel around the country soliciting donations.
The Trace reported in April that Schropp – who left Ackerman subsidiary Mercury Group to join the NRA in 2010 – “steered more business” towards the Oklahoma City-based ad firm while working as a fundraiser at the group. And, as the letter reveals, while using an Ackerman-provided credit card.
Schropp appears to have been a big fan of Alexandria, Virginia’s Landini Brothers Italian restaurant. The document also reflect trips to multiple Ritz Carlton hotels around the country, with dozens of entries reflecting stays at the chain’s Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Half Moon Bay, California locations.
The letter suggests that Schropp received the card “at Wayne LaPierre’s request” to keep his “business travel and entertainment confidential and secure.”
The statement attached to the letter reflects at least $25,000 in expenses at various Ritz Carlton properties, as well as one $1,200 trip to Las Vegas’s Charlie Palmer steak house along with hundreds of dollars in separate trips to high-end cigar shops.
As a non-profit chartered in New York State, the NRA faces relatively strict regulations that ban so-called “excess benefit transactions” — the use of charity funds for the excessive personal benefit of those managing the charity.
In a statement to TPM, the NRA called the document “stale news – being recycled by those with personal agendas.”
“In any event, I am fully aware of these issues,” said NRA President Carolyn Meadows in the statement. “We have full confidence in Wayne LaPierre and the work he’s doing in support of the NRA and its members.”
Schropp did not return an emailed request for comment.
David Dell’Aquila, an NRA donor who has met Schropp and who is trying to marshal donors away from the NRA until it enacts management reforms, told TPM that “the expenses are outlandish and extravagant for any executive to charge back to his organization, let alone an executive of a non-profit.”
Ackerman, the vendor that provided Schropp’s credit card, told TPM in a statement that it “followed the explicit directions of the NRA’s CEO and CFO,” adding that it could “back up every aspect of its billing,” and would do so “in the litigation.”
The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of the letter in May.
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