The NY Attorney General’s Effort To Dissolve The NRA For Self-Dealing Is A Self-Indictment

National_Rifle_Association_official_logo.svgBelow is my column in the Hill newspaper on the effort of New York Attorney General Letitia James to forced the dissolution of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The decision of James to seek the clearly unwarranted dissolution of the nation’s largest gun rights organization is consistent with her past politicalization of office. The case itself is important and raises serious questions of excessive spending by officers of the NRA. While there are other organizations that have not received this level of attention over spending, the record of the NRA is worthy of scrutiny and possible injunctive relief. However, James undermined the credibility of the case by demanding dissolution to pander to Democratic voters. It is all too familiar to those of us who have criticized James in the past for her use of the office for political grandstanding.

Here is the column:

440px-Ambrose_Burnside_-_retouchedIt is for the best that Ambrose Burnside is not alive, as New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a complaint seeking, among other things, the dissolution of the National Rifle Association. For the hapless Burnside, it is one final indignity. Widely ridiculed as an unimaginative Union Army commander in the Civil War, Burnside has only two lasting legacies. First, his facial hair was so prominent that others would sport what would later be called sideburns. Second, he was the first president of the NRA in the 19th century. Now James wants to leave him with only his whiskers.

Her complaint alleges lavish spending by officers, most notably executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. The list includes hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on himself, his wife, family, and friends. It runs from petty to gross, such as gifts from Neiman Marcus, golf memberships, and private jets. When figures like former president Oliver North decided to side with NRA whistleblowers, they were forced out. The NRA has reportedly spent an obscene $100 million on legal fees and the related costs alone.

If there is any hope for the legacy of Burnside, it comes from James. While she claims the NRA has been smeared with self dealing by its leaders, the same complaint could be leveled against her record as attorney general. I previously criticized her for inserting politics into her state office. She ran on the pledge to prosecute Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump. James had not only used the prosecution of an unpopular individual for her own gain but sought to gut the New York constitutional protection against double jeopardy. The case was then dismissed.

James would later call the NRA a “terrorist organization,” a claim which is common among internet trolls, but this was the top New York prosecutor engaging in legal trolling. That is what makes the NRA complaint a tragic irony. If taking power to benefit yourself rather than your organization is the measure, the complaint is a self-indictment. James’ demand to dissolve the NRA in order to pander to voters undermines the case presented by her office. While dissolution is simply absurd, James shows us absurdity and popularity can often move hand in hand in New York politics.

Many organizations have suffered dubious spending by officers, ranging from political parties to nonprofits to universities. None were disbanded. Union and religious leaders are often accused of lavish spending on their travel or other job perks. Few have been prosecuted. The National Action Network of Al Sharpton paid him more than $1 million in compensation in 2018 and another $500,000 for rights to his life story. While it is based in New York, James has not tried to dissolve it or other organizations.

Other cases seeking dissolution undermine the case against the NRA. Five years ago, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman tried to dissolve the National Children Leukemia Foundation after finding that 1 percent of around $10 million in donations went to cancer victims, including almost no money spent on its “Make a Dream Come True” program. Its president turned out to be a felon who ran the organization out of his basement. A settlement was reached and the charity was voluntarily shut down.

The NRA is not run out of a basement, and it spends large sums of money on its firearms lobbying and training programs. It is, by any measure, one of the most successful advocacy groups in our history. It has more than 5 million members and is the largest and most influential gun rights organization in the world. Whatever complaints can be raised over the spending habits of its officers, the NRA is undoubtedly a successful enterprise. Indeed, many lawmakers have denounced its influence in Washington, since low scores from the NRA can mean defeat for politicians who face close races.

James is not disregarding the implications of a Democratic official seeking to destroy one of the most powerful conservative groups in the country in an election year. By contrast, she seems to revel in that image. She knows liberals are thrilled by the idea of disbanding the NRA. She is now revered as a hero by those who view no problem in her past declaring the group a terrorist organization and now trying to dissolve the group as a fraudulent organization. It has been a political campaign in search of lawful rationale for years, however, the allegation is not as important as the target.

Those same political supporters, of course, would be justifiably outraged by any clear action of the administration to dissolve liberal organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Misconduct or crimes by its officers would not leave it as a criminal enterprise. Like the NRA, Planned Parenthood is one of the most effective groups defending a constitutional right.

Trying to dissolve an organization engaged in political speech should not occur absent overwhelming proof that it is a criminal enterprise, which is why this has never happened with a group like the NRA. James may point to the voluntary dissolution of the Donald Trump Foundation, a small and mostly inactive nonprofit, or the dissolution of Ku Klux Klan groups in the 1940s, but there is little comparison with the NRA in these cases.

Many liberals celebrating the lawsuit against the NRA condemned Trump for trying to declare the radical movement antifa a terrorist organization. They were as right then as they are wrong now. I recently testified for the Senate to oppose such a designation for antifa. While I have been a vocal critic of antifa and its tactics, it is a dangerous power for the government to openly wield against organizations engaged in political speech.

Burnside will always have facial hair as his lasting legacy. James is turning hers into something much more menacing. It is not that she will succeed in such raw political demands that is the concern. It is that so many want her to succeed in dissolving a national advocacy group in this country.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

136 thoughts on “The NY Attorney General’s Effort To Dissolve The NRA For Self-Dealing Is A Self-Indictment”

  1. What could end up happening is that the NRA becomes a more efficient and effective organization after it goes through this process.

    1. That’s an interesting bit of history. That march was infamous as was his disastrous attack at Fredericksburg. Fun to learn that about an ancestor.

  2. The New York individual who filed that charge is liable under federal law. Apparently relying on the New York trick of apologizing after the act.

  3. White morons can do it too.

    Andy Ngo ( a true jounalist) is reporting that antifa soy people in Seattle are looting Amazon and Starbucks among others. Aren’t these businesses that bent a knee and donated money to this crap? You pay for it and you get more of it apparently. “Will you have a side of looting with those broken windows?”

    1. Young…… The truly amazing thing is that Andy Ngo has not been killed. I worry about him. He deserves a Pulitzer.

      OT………been writing latdly?

      1. Cindy, Skipped a few days and trying to get back to it.. Wrote about a summer fighting forest fire in the woods, hard rock climbing Chimney Rock in North Idaho, going to the first riot, going to brothels where, among the usual, the girls asked if I would help fix a broken bed, and then starting school again. Not much about school but touched on my night in a noisy haunted bed, or so it was said, and accidentally scaring someone with a too big homemade firecracker. Next major thing going underground in the mine. I had to shift a few things because I got the order wrong. Thanks for asking though. I thought everyone had forgotten about it by now. This is Chimney Rock though these are not photos of me–different time and other people. We had a problem and had to descend in the dark without a rope. I won’t do it again. Kind of a subtitle for the book I think.

        1. Thank you Young………we’re very interested…we just don’t want to intrude.Chimney Rock is impressive!.And the haunted bed and firecracker sound funny. What’s also funny is how you casually mention brothels…LOL Here in the Bible Belt we’re not supposed to even acknowlege that they exist..LOL!
          “…descend in the dark without a rope”..
          Holy sh**! You are one tough guy.

          1. Tough guy? No, I was scared but I didn’t have a choice. As I said, I wouldn’t do it again.

            I think every guy in my high school went to the cat houses many times. The girls would give you a nice little matchbook with the name of the business on the cover and their names written inside. I had a little bag of them but my aunt threw them away when I was staying with her. A couple of decades later she apologized for doing that. Nice mementos and hard to get now.

      2. Here is a little bit about the neighborhood:

        [There was a] sort of Dickensian quality of the mining buildings that … cascade down these hillsides: boiling, fuming, spewing fire and smoke.” Superfund Director, Mike Gearhead,
        A Deep and Wide Mining Scar in Idaho, Los Angeles Times, Monday, July 17, 2000, A1

        “In towns like Kellogg and Smelterville, children in the 1980’s had the highest levels of lead ever recorded in humans….”
        A Deep and Wide Mining Scar in Idaho, Los Angeles Times, Monday, July 17, 2000

          1. A little bit of lead poisoning. Working in the smelter some areas were higher risk for it than others. Tapping the blast furnace would get little burns on you from droplets of molten rock landing on your skin but not much actual exposure to lead. I have several little white spots on my arms and hands from burns. Probably on my back,too, because a few drops went down my collar when the furnace was blowing. Working higher up the hill there could be a lot of dust with heavy metals. We wore respirators but it was everywhere. In the restroom there was a little medicine cabinet with labeled bottles in it. You could leave a urine sample with your name on it and in about a week you would get a report posted in the lunch room. I was careful because I was used to handling toxic chemicals in my basement lab when I was in high school so I did not expect to get much.

            The scale ran A0 [no lead] A1 [some lead], A2 and A3. Then B1, B2, B3 and then C1, C2 C3. If you got into the Cs you got kicked out of the smelter and sent to the zinc plant cell room which is what happened to my brother. I was there for some while before I finally posted A1 but didn’t worry about it.

            This should lead to images of the smelterr


            1. Young… I keep losing my comments…so I’ll just say I am shocked by the way mining was ( as far as environment, atmosphere, consequences etc) in the last half of 20th century! Yes Dickensian ….and a little Poe, maybe, too, as far as atmosphere

  4. With Mayor Lightfoot raising the drawbridges to keep the coloreds out of downtown can we rename the Chicago River the Chicago Moat?

    1. For decades smart people have understood that the Chicago river is a natural blockade from the worst element. It’s amazing however that we’ve finally come to the point where it needed to be used accordingly.

      This is awful news for the city and anyone who goes there. The green zone has been over-run. Let the few remaining sane Illinois Democrats wake up now before their scalps are taken, literally, by the hordes, which they have unleashed.

      Now let me share with you a river map that smart people have studied for a long time. smart people who have had to live there or within walking distance of a mob.

      chicago can actually be cordoned off by waterways in three directions.

      Yes: CHICAGO IS AN ISLAND. remove every bride, or lock it down, and then you have 99% FOOT TRAFFIC CONTAINMENT.
      i won’t say where the narrow footpaths might be which could circumvent it. very few if any. bottom line, Chicago 312 area code can be quickly and easily contained if need be

      Trust me the cops and national guard and the feds know this.
      they actually have “containment contingency plans” for every major city since 9/11 and can lock them all down fast.
      the official reason is to detain fugitives. but it’s more than that, we all know and understand, a lot more than that.

      Now the readers seeing my words, understand it too

      1. ps i say three directions because obviously the geography makes Lake Michigan the hypotenuse of a shape that’s like a right triangle. hence it is the eastern diagnol border.

        chicago river and calumet waterway are the key elements of the other directional borders. study the map. the overlay of major highways is important too.
        and on the east border there is a big no man’s land of steel factory and refinery facilities that have somewhat secure fences gobbling up the spaces

        one wonders if Indiana hasn’t purposefully enhanced the existing natural barriers there along that border. gee, if they did, that was foresight. very smart

      2. Kurtz– Thank you for that information. I knew none of it. Chicago actually has stealth moats and drawbgidges. The city needs them

  5. Black Lives Matter issues a Chicago looting statement blaming businesses for the looting.

    They say the businesses are “exploiting the labor of Black and Brown Chicagoans. These corporations have “looted” more from our communities than a few protesters ever could.”

    By exploiting their labor I suppose they mean giving them jobs.

    Are there any unpleasant stereotypes they haven’t lived up to yet?

    1. Many of the former white collar workers of the 312 area code of chicago are now “remote workers”

      the “illinois exodus” to wisconsin and indiana and missouri was already well underway going back for years

      i suspect people who can avoid 312’s toxic environment will stay that way for the duration, until springtime, covid or no

      “Black Friday” on Michigan avenue is going to be a BUST

      with events like this, you can be sure lawyers have no plans for in person hearings if they can avoid it

      luckily, the judges are even more loathe to show up in person. “or so i hear”

      nobody knows how this will turn out before the spring thaw– but one thing is certain


      Democrats, you can lie about it afterwards and nobody will know how you really cast your ballot.
      But if you want to save your own skin


  6. Jonathan: What I thought would be a close examination of the legal issues involving the lawsuit brought by NY AG Letitia James against the NRA turns out to be a diatribe against James herself because of “politicalization” of her office. You know a criminal defense attorney’s case is on shaky ground when he doesn’t address the legal or factual issues but, instead, attacks the messenger. You attack James because you claim her lawsuit is “a dangerous power for the government to openly wield against organizations engaged in political speech”. The facts show this case is not about “political speech” nor, as you say, an attempt to “pander to Democratic voters”.

    The NRA is a 501(c)3 tax exempt charity based in New York and, therefore, is governed by New York’s charitable laws. When the organization has established a pattern of misusing donations for the personal benefit of officers of the charity dissolution is the proper remedy. Donald Trump learned this the hard way. In 2018 Trump was forced to dissolve his Trump Foundation after NY Attorney Barbara Underwood brought charges that the Foundation showed “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation–including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more. This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests”. Sounds familiar to the charges now brought by AG James against the NRA?

    In defending the NRA you say “it spends sums of money on its firearms lobby and training programs”. Cute phrase “sums of money”. In fact, The NRA spends most of its budget on media and lobbying. The NRA spends less than 10% on gun education, safety and training which is supposed to be the core mission of the charity. The charges of self-dealing by Wayne LaPierre and other top executives of the NRA have been around for a long time. Last year Oliver North, then president of the NRA, was fired because he threatened to expose financial mismanagement in the organization. It is reported that North is cooperating in James’ investigation.

    Personally, I think Ambrose Burnside would be rolling in his grave to think his organization has turned into a personal piggy bank for Wayne LaPierre and his cronies. Dissolution is the proper remedy. By the way, James has company in her lawsuit. Karl Racine, the Attorney General in D.C, has also filed a lawsuit against the NRA for misusing charitable funds. It looks like the good times for Wayne LaPierre may soon be over!

  7. I feel it necessary to point to two critical errors in your argument. 1. “Abortion is a Constitutional Right.” -This is incorrect. Planned Parenthood has dropped their early argument that they fetus is not actually a baby’. Their materials openly admit that the fetus has an independent heart beat, brain waves, can feel pain and has functioning lungs as early as 13 weeks in development. They are clear that while the fetus does represent a living human being, that while alive, does not have rights as an individual superseding the right of the mother (or father) to abort that child. In fact the original founders of Planned Parenthood were openly white supremest who designed their argument in cooperation with several democratic leaders to accomplish no less than the generational genocide of people of color in the United States. The organization refers to her, now, as “complicated” and “complex” and “conflicted” even “imperfect”..yet they continue her stated goals. Their argument has avoided the issue of murder by transferring the terms to “reproductive rights”. This in itself is a badly flawed argument in that three states recognize the rights of the unborn to have a legal advocate without the requirement of requesting one. In the medical field it is often referred to as the ‘veterinary defense’ often used in the advocacy for patients in comas or with serious stroke limitations etc. But the legal fact is that both the mother to be and the doctor, nurses and owners of the clinic are conspiring to commit murder of a living human being. The fact that this argument provides legal relief to the unborn in three states and limitations on abortion in twenty-seven states clearly delineates this as not being a clear Constitutional Right but rather a continually fluctuating moral/legal argument to be resolved. 2. Antifa has not been designated as a terrorist organization for “their political speech”. That is at its face an absurd argument. They have operated freely as a political movement without legal limitation for over 40 years through campus organizations and rallies and political financial support and campaigning. The reason their status has rightfully changed Is because they have organize anti-state activities including attacking individuals, trespassing on private property of elected representatives and threatening them as well as the destruction of their property. They have organized the destruction of state and federal property, engaged in arson, illegal use of firearms to threaten and actually shoot U.S. citizens. Attacking public elected figures openly and using explosive devices on public buildings. Several active members who have been caught in the act have, under questioning, openly admitted to the goal of overthrowing the U.S. government. These are acts of sedition and war. They are specifically planned for the maximum threat of terror and to destabilize the government. They meet, as an organization, by testimony and written materials every aspect and requirement of the lawful designation of ‘terrorist organization’. Your defense of them is utterly indefensible under any legal statute or Constitutional law.
    If the leaders of the NRA have broken finance laws, then they should be held accountable. The law seems to be the last bastion of our civilization on which we can depend. But the dissolution of the organization is simply not warranted. The designation as ‘terrorist organization’ has no basis in fact and would never gain legal traction under the current origionalist Constitutionalist Supreme Court justices now presiding. I hoped for a higher degree of accuracy from your article. Instead you have yourself pandered to the left in an effort to find balance with both sides. However the mob will never be satisfied. Once you begin to find common ground with them they will press the goals yet further. Only a firm stance in conservative understanding of our Constitution Laws of our land can provide legitimate guidance into America’s future as a stable nation.

    1. Just Last Year, NRA Opposed Reauthorization Of Violence Against Women Act

      Gun Lobby Feels Domestic Abusers Should Be Allowed To Keep Guns

      The National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun lobby, has settled on its next target on Capitol Hill: blocking Congress from reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 law that assists victims of domestic and sexual violence.

      The House is set to vote on the legislation this week; the law expired in February. But the bill includes a new provision — aimed at curbing sexual violence by expanding law enforcement’s ability to strip domestic abusers of their guns — that the N.R.A. does not like. The measure closes the so-called boyfriend loophole by barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a dating partner or those subject to a court restraining order from buying or owning firearms.

      Under current federal law, those convicted of domestic abuse can lose their guns if they are — or were formerly — married to their victim, live with their victim, have a child with their victim or are a parent or guardian of their victim. The proposed provision would extend those who can be convicted of domestic abuse to include stalkers and current or former boyfriends or dating partners.

      Roughly half of all female homicide victims are killed by what experts call “intimate partners” — meaning current or former spouses or dating partners — according to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And about half of intimate partner homicides involved dating relationships, according to David Keck, director of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms, which provides guidance to law enforcement and governments on implementing firearms prohibitions, but takes no position on the new domestic violence act provision.

      Studies also show that domestic abusers with guns inflict a disproportionate amount of violence on their partners, and that the victims are overwhelmingly female. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun safety group. Roughly three-quarters of all intimate partner murder victims were also victims of stalking by their partners, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.

      “The share of homicides committed by dating partners has been increasing for three decades,” said Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that supports tighter gun laws, in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. “Women are now as likely to be killed by dating partners as by spouses with guns.”

      The reauthorization bill has one Republican co-sponsor, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, is urging Congress to extend the expired law for the rest of the year to continue funding services to survivors at current levels. Ms. Baker, of the N.R.A., accused Democrats of “playing politics” with the bill by inserting the so-called boyfriend provision as a “poison pill” so that Democrats can portray Republicans who vote against it as anti-woman.

      The N.R.A. has decided to “score” the vote on the Violence Against Women Act, meaning it will keep track and publish how lawmakers vote in an effort to either reward or defeat them in the next election. While the move is not likely to keep the bill from passing the House, it does make it more likely that the “boyfriend loophole” provision will be stripped from the act when the measure arrives in the Senate.

      Edited From: “Why The NRA Opposes New Domestic Abuse Legislation”

      The New York Times, 4/1/19

      1. NRA Opposed Reauthorization Of Violence Against Women Act

        Why would anyone of sense want that re-authorized?

        1. Absurd, I’m sure in your little world good Christian men never abuse their women.

          1. And I am sure in your world you world demand passage of the
            All Puppies go to Heaven act

            that is for the murder of pets.

            Because the name sounds nice.

        2. That is irrelevant.

          Seth seems to think the NRA is not allowed to have oppinions and positions he disagrees with.

      2. Not a federal issue. Dems were just complaining about federal officers protecting federal property in Portland and now you want the “Stormtroopers” coming into homes

      3. So what ?

        The NRA is entitled to whatever positions it wished.

        Just as BLM is or the AFL-CIO.

    2. Ezra– Interesting analysis. It has been a long while since I looked at any of this but my recollection was that Roe v. Wade did not actually recognize a constitutional right to an abortion. They recognized a constitutional right to privacy along the lines of Griswold v Connecticut that limited the right of government to intrude on a matter like contraception or abortion. May have changed since then, but that is my recollection. It suggests different approaches when addressing the issue.

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