State Watch

New York attorney general sues to dissolve the NRA

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Thursday announced a lawsuit that seeks to dissolve the National Rifle Association (NRA), alleging the powerful pro-gun interest group violated corporate laws resulting in a loss of more than $64 million over three years.

The 169-page civil suit follows an 18-month fraud investigation by James's office. The lawsuit alleges that the NRA and four of its top officials diverted millions of dollars away from its charitable mission and instituted "a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight."

"As today's complaints lays out, we found that the NRA ... fostered a culture of noncompliance and disregard for internal controls that led to the waste and loss of millions of assets and contributed to the NRA's current deteriorated financial state," James said during a press conference.

The defendants named in the 18-count lawsuit treated the 149-year-old nonprofit organization as their "personal piggy bank," James said, using it to finance everything from Caribbean vacations, expensive meals and the use of private jets.

Among the defendants are the NRA's Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, as well as the group's former treasurer, chief of staff and general counsel.

The suit alleges that LaPierre hired the defendants for senior executive positions, despite their lack of qualifications, in order to "facilitate his misuse of charitable assets." 

"Like LaPierre, each of them regularly ignored, overrode or otherwise violated the bylaws and internal policies and procedures that they were charged with enforcing," the suit alleges. "As a result of these repeated violations, charitable assets were diverted to benefit NRA insiders and favored vendors."

LaPierre called the lawsuit "an affront to democracy and freedom."

"This is an unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the NRA - the fiercest defender of America's freedom at the ballot box for decades," he said in a statement. "The NRA is well governed, financially solvent, and committed to good governance. We're ready for the fight. Bring it on." 

Legal experts said the lawsuit was a major setback for the NRA and could even lead to the shuttering of the nation's leading gun rights group, though the litigation could take years to play out.

"The NY Attorney General has already brought down the Trump Foundation, and now it is targeting the NRA," said Adam Winkler, a law professor and Second Amendment expert at UCLA. "If the allegations are true, Wayne LaPierre has been using the NRA as his personal piggy bank."

State law in New York that governs corporations allows the attorney general to seek to dissolve organizations for serious misconduct, though courts may also impose less extreme penalties.

 

Gun control advocacy groups hailed the lawsuit's potential to dismantle the pro-Second Amendment juggernaut.

"Today could be the beginning of the end of the NRA as we know it," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told reporters. "And America would be a better place for it."

Shortly after the New York lawsuit was announced, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., filed a similar complaint against the NRA Foundation, the group's D.C.-based charitable offshoot, for allegedly misusing charitable funds.

"Charitable organizations function as public trusts - and District law requires them to use their funds to benefit the public, not to support political campaigns, lobbying, or private interests," D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) said in a statement. "With this lawsuit, we aim to recover donated funds that the NRA Foundation wasted."

- Alex Gangitano contributed to this report.

Updated at 5:13 p.m.

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