Newsweek: The NRA’s Non-Profit Status In Jeopardy As House Dems Call for IRS Investigation

Originally published by Newsweek on May 5, 2019

By Asher Stockler

A chorus of Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee is now calling for an investigation into the National Rifle Association’s tax-exempt status after an explosive report from The New Yorker detailed alleged financial improprieties at the gun rights organization.

On Thursday, Congressman Brad Schneider, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig asking the agency to investigate the NRA over the latest allegations. Additional committee members told Newsweek on Friday that they support efforts to investigate the group and its tax-exempt status.

“Given the flood of alleged fraud racking their organization, a probing investigation into the NRA’s finances, as well as its tax exempt status, is both welcome and necessary,” Congressman Bill Pascrell told Newsweek in a written statement. “It’s about time.”

The House Ways and Means Committee is the primary tax-writing committee of the House of Representatives and has jurisdiction over issues relating to nonprofits and tax-exempt entities.

The report from The New Yorker, co-published with The Trace, details a litany of potential financial misdeeds concerning the NRA’s reimbursement of vendors, business decisions and possible conflicts of interest. A key figure in the allegations is the organization’s longtime public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen.

Ackerman McQueen’s lucrative relationship with the NRA has brought renewed scrutiny to the gun rights group and its priorities as a nonprofit entity. The NRA has spent millions of dollars on the production of glossy magazines, television shows and celebrity promotions through its contract with Ackerman McQueen. The PR firm’s often opaque billing practices underscore the potential risk that an investigation into its accounting could pose. In 2017, Ackerman received nearly $41 million from the NRA for PR and consulting services, and yet the organization has had to file suit against Ackerman for access to its billing records. Central to any misguided decisions about NRA spending priorities is a problematic revolving-door relationship between high-level NRA staffers and Ackerman McQueen, according to The New Yorker’s report.

“I support Rep. Schneider’s call for an IRS investigation into reported abuses at the NRA,” Congressman Don Beyer told Newsweek. “Given the organization in question I am neither surprised nor disappointed by the latest revelations. Political patronage should not protect supposed ‘nonprofits’ whose executives are living the high life off of tax deductible donations.”

Ben Turner, communications director for Congressman Dwight Evans, told Newsweek that “Congressman Evans supports the call for an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.”

The allegations in the latest report coincide with a bout of internal turmoil at the NRA. A week after The New Yorker published its story, NRA President Oliver North was ousted amid an extortion scandal at the highest ranks of the organization involving its CEO Wayne LaPierre. LaPierre had written a letter to the board of directors claiming that North was attempting to coerce him into resigning over charges of financial and sexual misconduct directed at a staff member. After the letter accusing North of extortion was received by the board, North was removed from the organization. North had previously written a letter to the board accusing LaPierre in engaging in unnecessary, lavish spending on the organization’s dime.

“These potential improprieties by the NRA are deeply disturbing and are worth looking into,” Congressman Tom Suozzi told Newsweek. “I support Congressman Schneider’s call for the IRS commissioner to examine whether the NRA should be considered a tax exempt organization.”

Congressman John Larson’s communications director echoed these statements to Newsweek: “Yes, he would support an investigation.”

In recent weeks, the NRA has been subjected to new probes announced by the attorney general of New York, where the organization has its charter, and by members of the Senate Finance Committee. Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker has called on the IRS to begin its own investigation as well.