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NRA fights to retain political clout while under legal attack

Neil Weinberg, David Voreacos and David Kocieniewski, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

The scandals engulfing the National Rifle Association threaten to undercut its financial and political power heading into the crucial 2020 U.S. elections.

The organization has long been perceived as a kingmaker, and was in fact the top contributor to Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.

Now complaints over lavish spending, internal battles, legal fights and fundraising woes are coming to a head. On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued to dissolve the New York-based organization. She accused NRA's leader Wayne LaPierre and three others of fleecing it. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine filed a separate lawsuit against the NRA's charitable arm, accusing it of misusing donor funds.

The timing of the lawsuits is inauspicious. With the presidential and congressional elections scheduled for November, the nonprofit faces a variety of challenges to raise money and cover mounting legal expenses. And its long-standing leadership is being attacked by New York state.

The legal battles will hurt the NRA politically in the next three months, said Daniel Kurtz, an attorney at Pryor Cashman LLP who represents nonprofit organizations. "It will diminish its direct influence because they're going to have to be in defense mode," Kurtz said.

GOP politicians, from Trump to down-ballot candidates, have much to lose, as polls suggest some congressmen and senators are facing surprisingly strong challenges for seats previously considered safe. In past elections, the Republican Party has benefited as the NRA energized its base, got people to the polls and funded its campaigns.

 

The NRA wasted no time pivoting from defense to offense on Thursday. Now its agenda is to mobilize supporters of gun rights by emphasizing that New York wants to destroy it, a rallying cry that may prove effective. The NRA countersued James in federal court, accusing her of violating its First Amendment rights. In a statement, the organization also accused her of weaponizing her regulatory and legal power under the guise of protecting state residents. And the NRA noted that while running for office in 2018, James vowed to "target the NRA."

The NRA also accused James in the lawsuit of colluding with Everytown for Gun Safety. Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, founded and helps fund Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates for universal background checks and other gun violence prevention measures.

Carolyn Meadows, the NRA's president, called James' suit a baseless, premeditated attack on the Second Amendment that was timed to have maximum impact during the election cycle.

"You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle," she said. "It's a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda."

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