NRA Power Struggle: Wayne LaPierre Rallies Support to Remain CEO

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Friday, April 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – Longtime National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre is fighting back against NRA President Oliver North’s challenge to remove LaPierre, as North announced on Saturday he will not seek to remain president when the NRA board of directors meets in Indianapolis on Monday.

LaPierre has led the NRA as executive vice president since 1991, helping grow the organization into the most politically powerful juggernaut on the national scene, exceeding $300 million in annual revenues at its peak. The executive vice president is a salaried employment position at the NRA, which must be annually renewed by the board of directors. The NRA president is the chairman of the board, a position limited to two one-year terms. (The sole exception to that limit was Charlton Heston, for whom the board amended the NRA’s bylaws to permit him to serve five years.)

North had contacted LaPierre’s top staff adviser this week, demanding the CEO’s resignation, and purportedly offering an excellent retirement package if LaPierre would agree both to step down and to support North’s bid for re-election as president. When LaPierre refused, North sent a letter to board members on Wednesday claiming mismanagement by LaPierre, including allegedly unjustified expenditures on wardrobe, travel, and other matters.

“Leaders in every walk of life must often choose: between what is true, and what is polite, between what is convenient, and was is right,” LaPierre began in a Thursday letter to the board responding to North’s claims. “Despite a political climate that maligns our founding freedoms, you elected to walk the principled path and not the popular one.”

LaPierre continued that on April 24, he “was forced to confront one of those defining choices – styled, in the parlance of extortionists, as an offer [he] couldn’t refuse.” He characterized it as an ultimatum that he either “resign or there will be destructive allegations made against [him] and the NRA.” The letter then flatly declared, “I refused the offer.”

“As you know, the NRA has over this past year taken steps to strengthen its efforts to document and verify compliance by our vendors with our purchasing practices and their contracts,” LaPierre continued. “As stated in a pending lawsuit, we’ve met extraordinary resistance from one vendor: Ackerman McQueen (AM).”

LaPierre was referring to a lawsuit filed in Virginia state court by the NRA against Ackerman McQueen this month. The steps he referred to in the letter regarding financial safeguards were put in place to respond to the NRA’s federal lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat who is using the New York Department of Financial Services to pressure financial institutions to discontinue business dealings with the NRA if they want a friendly business environment in New York. New York government is also pressuring insurers not to provide insurance for NRA public events, such as the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, where up to 85,000 attendees are expected. The NRA was originally incorporated in New York.

New York’s new attorney general, Letitia James, ran on a platform of attacking the NRA, calling the civil rights group a “terrorist organization.” James’s office is defending in court the actions of Cuomo and his subordinates.

Although many expect the NRA to prevail in that federal lawsuit against Cuomo and his administration, either at trial in the Northern District of New York or ultimately before the U.S. Supreme Court, court filings explain that the lawsuit has taken a serious financial toll on the organization. The NRA leadership has, therefore, tightened its belt in the meantime as the organization gears up for the 2020 presidential election.

One board member in Indianapolis claimed to Breitbart News on Friday that many of the specifics North raised occurred years ago, had been referred to the relevant board committees at the time, and appropriate corrective action had already been taken.

LaPierre’s letter also states that last year, North “entered into an employment agreement with [Ackerman McQueen] that pays him millions of dollars annually” related to a television series his agency is producing but that, as the Virginia lawsuit explains, the agency will not disclose the details of that contract, which the NRA is demanding in court.

Court filings cite financial records as revealing that the NRA paid Ackerman McQueen $42.6 million in 2017, far exceeding any other vendor. The agency has long provided a wide range of services for the NRA, and LaPierre has frequently supported the agency during their decades-long relationship.

“[Ackerman McQueen] did not respond directly,” LaPierre continues, “but appears to have responded indirectly by trying to oust me.”

For its part, Ackerman McQueen calls the lawsuit “frivolous” and “inaccurate,” claims that NRA auditors were “given every single thing they requested,” and says it would like to continue serving NRA members.

During the NRA’s annual corporate officer speeches on Saturday, NRA First Vice President Richard Childress presided in the place of North, who departed Indianapolis prior to the official meeting. Childress read a letter from North, in which he announced that he will not run for re-election as president when his current yearly term expires on Monday.

Founded in 1871 and boasting more than five million members, the NRA is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in America. The NRA Annual Meeting this year is being held in Indianapolis as a three-day convention. The organization’s board of directors then holds a meeting at the end of that convention each year, during which corporate officers are elected for annual terms.

The NRA has always been one of the most stable public interest organizations in terms of leadership and management. Some of the board members are comparing this episode to the late 1990s, when a group of insurgents tried to replace LaPierre. Other board members compare it to 1977, when leaders reclaimed the organization from moderates and liberals who wanted to convert the NRA into an environmental organization that would steer clear of conservative political issues. But aside from those two events, the NRA has had remarkably stable leadership during its 148-year existence.

Multiple board members in Indianapolis expressed to Breitbart News on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that everyone agrees the organization must resolve this internal issue quickly because the NRA has an irreplaceable role to play in the 2020 election cycle. These board members say that Democrats are running on a fiercely anti-Second Amendment platform, and no other organization has even a fraction of the NRA’s reach, skill, and resources to help inform and mobilize citizens on the Second Amendment, which will, in turn, re-elect President Donald Trump while possibly restoring a pro-Second Amendment majority in the U.S. House as well.

Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.

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