As we progress with the investigation of the NRA, we come to see the organization evolve from advocacy to more self-service for those in charge. Like any other group dynamic that allows for power to become too concentrated abuse of power and tyranny follow as consequences. This story will revisit some history and look into the structure of the NRA that has allowed this to happen and how it will be resistant to reform.
Going back to the pivotal year in 1977, as Harlon B. Carter and Neal Knox set out to redefine the NRA, it will be demonstrated how in the wake of their desire for change the door opened for others to take advantage in a negative way. After the GCA was passed in 1968, many thought that the further inaction would lead to the United States adopting European style draconian gun control laws. At this time, there was no central voice for pro-gun rights. There were many in the NRA who could see that Washington, DC was turning into “the swamp” we call it today. To combat this, the existing NRA leadership called for the organization to move out of Washington and relocate to Colorado to avoid getting stuck in the muck. Carter and Knox felt that doing so would allow the NRA to abdicate any responsibility in defending the 2nd Amendment, so they devised a plan. At the Annual Members Meeting, their faction staged a challenge to the leadership and after a very long day’s struggle, came out on top. During this same year of the “revolt,” a fresh-faced lobbyist was hired to help get the political side of the organization ready to turn things around. His name was Wayne LaPierre.
Now as all of this was going on, the organization wrote a new set of bylaws to encompass this rebranded organization, and all the areas of the firearms community it would be involved in. The bylaws were only a mere 24 pages worth of material in 1974 and by 1985 it was pushed up to 38. These were the two closest dates that copies of the bylaws could be located at the time of this article was written although the 1985 copy makes notes that there were two sets of amended changes done in 1981. Most of these changes were on how the organization would operate, select organizational positions, and how to remove or change personnel/bylaws. Today, the bylaws stand at 50 pages in length. By the way, the process of officer removal went from a single paragraph to a five-page section. Wayne was likely involved in crafting these changes. He would have also been present on the pros and cons of these new plans.
A quick survey of the pre-1977 bylaws will be done and changes will be noted as we progress over the years. Any references to the structure or changes to it will be referenced so as not to needlessly detract from the focus of the article. Like today, the Board of Directors (BoD) consisted of at least 75 members, but there were far fewer qualifiers to become one. In the area of officers little has changed with one major exception, there was a Vice President of Finance who was separate from the Treasurer. Here is the first major safeguard that was removed after the revolt and more power flowed to the Executive Vice President and Treasurer. It’s also understandable that by this time an organization of its size with the limited communications of the era, the daily operations would be overseen by a single person. Yet, over the years, the centralized control could be diffused to other officers. The President is really only being responsible for assigning personnel to committees while the other Vice Presidents are merely place holders. After Carter left it was only a matter of time before a driven employee, with an eye for the future, would bide his time to seize the reins. In the interim, alliances were made, a reputation would be built, and a careful study of any opponents would be done to reach the goal.
Now getting into the center of control for the NRA is the Nominating Committee (NC). This is the supposedly independent body that selects all the officers, BoD, and the Executive Committee (EC) which is the checks and balance for the officers. Before Cincinnati, this committee was appointed 90 days before a required election and that was it. After that the committee was overhauled. Now on the surface it seems very resilient as its now nine members of which no more than six can be from the board. Let’s take this apart and show how it can be obviously abused. On an altruistic level, having a mixed committee selected by secret ballot will keep the board from abusing its selection power, but how exactly are these independent people selected? Over the seven years of minutes reviewed for the annual meetings, when this selection is made, there were never more than the minimum three necessary to fill the seats. While two such selections had seven board members for the six slots. That’s an amazing level of consensus by such a large group of people for such an important committee. The meeting minutes show no major discussion or anything else that indicate the selection process. It’s like the list was predetermined before the meeting and just rubber stamped by the board. Again, this group also selects the EC which has an overall authority.
This revelation is even worse than what was previously mentioned. The EC is a body of 20 Board members elected every year. You would think this would be a diverse group; that would be wrong. There are 15 people who have served on this committee for five or more years of the seven reviewed. A group consisting of Charles Cotton, Dwight Van Horn, Susan Howard, and Sandra Froman have served all seven years. That is not a body that will provide accountability for wayward leadership, but assurance. The Trace, who is cited begrudgingly, reported it takes at least 15 of the 20 members to vote for removal of an officer and we verified. To pile on there are many times where members on the NC who get selected to the EC. Last year, in 2018, it was the highest of all the years with five moving from between the two. Sadly, when it comes to selecting officers, the committee only offers up a single name for each position so it’s a simple voice vote. This is why it’s always a unanimous vote for LaPierre and the other officers. There was never any choice at all. By the way, this is the same pool of people also make up the majority of the Audit Committee. The committee that’s supposed to oversee spending and prevent corruption.
The last aspect of the NC is selecting the pool of candidates as the board turns over a third of its seats per year. The recommendations are mailed to NRA HQ, as they have to be mailed back by mid-April. They wait there until August for the committee to review and make selections. Regardless, of the list of applicants, the body of qualified applicants varies from 53-60 like clockwork except for 63 one year. This list is then cut down to those names that appear on the ballot. So, this all supposedly happens down the hall from the EVP’s office without his involvement? Since there are qualification requirements, it seems logical that the names would be checked ahead of time, allowing the possibility of some extra “vetting” being done. There are also no discussion notes are ballot records to show their selection process.
How does all of this happen? It doesn’t just happen overnight and since LaPierre has been with the NRA for 40 years - time was on his side. Nobody else in the organization has been around this long. LaPierre has a history and reputation. He has testified before Congress, met with U.S. presidents, been the face of the organization for decades so there is an awe factor. He is at the center and it’s good to impress him. That’s likely how it all starts, innocent interactions until one learns they can garner influence or make money from the organization. Now, a more complete description of the NRA’s finances will be following this story as it’s not a simple subject to articulate. Some will be mentioned as these are blatant issues that would color any judgement. Board members like David Butz has made $150,000 a year for what’s listed as contracting work with the organization. While bad, it’s not like Marion Hammer, who averages almost $200,000 a year for lobbying which includes the last ten years. That’s not small change. Even Ted Nugent had a big check for his involvement at an NRA annual meeting, while others like Julie Golob and Bart Skelton make $30,000 or less for services rendered to the NRA. There are other instances of BoD members getting compensation in single instances but that’s a long list. This also doesn’t include any money made from those who have businesses interacting with the NRA. We also have no idea what other perks are offered to NRA BoD members. One known example is that before this latest crisis in D.C., the NRA was going to hold the September meeting in Alaska, which was reported to have a lavish cruise/fishing activity along with it. Even though the organization claims to have financial issues.
This is what we know about at the moment and it does start to explain why people so adamantly protect the NRA, which is now like a cult of personality centered around Wayne. Too many people equate LaPierre and the NRA as being the same thing and they are not. That’s why the group feels so insulated against the winds of change. Seriously, how does a group of 76 people who only meet three times a year for five hours (not subtracting the lunch break) as a full body do anything but rubber-stamp the EVP’s agenda? To qualify, there are always several BoD members that can’t attend and only those assigned to one or more of the standing committees have extra duties. Otherwise that’s all folks. Here is one final testament to the near absolute power wielded by Wayne LaPierre over the NRA. At the September 2018 meeting, the “top” two leaders stepped down from their positions to vault Oliver North, the next in the line of succession, to become the new NRA President. By their speeches, it’s obvious this was planned in advance and like clockwork the NC simply re-nominated those who just vacated their positions back in a different order like shuffling a deck of cards.
The previously stated theories, along with the idea of “why work harder if you don’t have to” has led to this need of a unified front. Not to mention a turbulent house is very damaging for its image but corruption, in any form will rot the whole organization. That’s why it’s so troublesome that it’s the opposition, through outlets like the New Yorker exposing these issues, sting so badly. This needs to be fixed by the gun community, but it won’t be easy. Even though several principled people have made shout outs for transparency and reform, little is happening. The “dissidents” are being publicly chastised by Marion Hammer whose letter has been plastered all over the internet, called out by Carolyn Meadows at meetings, who is not renewing their committee assignments. Also, VP Willes Lee demeans the general public and threatens to delete their posts on social media who express discontent. Another member has even chosen to publicly insult and gossip about another BoD official who is challenging the narrative. Regular members are also being threatened by having credentials revoked for expressing a view counter to the narrative. The sad truth is that the board is powerless unless the EC changes its stripes and takes action. Yet there is hope as Owen “Buzz” Mills of Gunsite, an EC member, has finally sided with those calling out for reforms. There has also been a recent list of members who have resigned from the board, like Julie Golob. One can only hope that more leave soon and in enough numbers that they simply can’t be replaced with more blind supporters of LaPierre.
Only time will tell who comes out on top. It was over forty years ago when the NRA went through its first turmoil and twenty when LaPierre nearly lost control of the organization. Nobody knows the outcome of this latest ordeal. One thing is for certain, the longer this draws out the worse it will be for the 2nd Amendment community in the next election. The time for who to blame why we are in this state has passed. It time to clean house and comeback swinging. This country loves a good story of redemption. Let’s give them one.
You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.