Two prominent board members stepped down from the National Rifle Association this week, deepening the upheaval at the longtime gun rights powerhouse, which has lost seven directors since May.
NRA officials confirmed Tuesday that country music singer Craig Morgan has left the board, as first reported by CNN, along with Richard Childress, a well-known NASCAR team owner based in North Carolina.
The departure of Childress came after he and then-NRA President Oliver North privately urged the group’s leaders in a letter this year to more carefully review spending decisions under chief executive Wayne LaPierre, particularly legal fees totaling tens of millions of dollars.
In his resignation letter Monday, Childress made no mention of those issues and emphasized that he had chosen to leave the NRA board to focus on his private business.
He said he was resigning from the board and all NRA committees he served on effective immediately, “with great regret and a heavy heart.” Childress wrote that he had “reached the point” where he could no longer fully commit his time to the organization.
“My hope is that the NRA will move forward with a focus on its important mission of defending the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens as provided in the Second Amendment, promoting firearm and hunting safety, enhancing our shooting sports and educating the general public about firearms,” Childress wrote in his letter, which was first reported by NPR.
In a statement, NRA President Carolyn Meadows expressed “deep appreciation” for Childress’s service to the group.
“We wish him all of the best in his future business endeavors,” she said, adding that the group is “pleased to know that Mr. Childress will continue to support our organization and the constitutional freedoms in which it believes.”
The latest resignations mean that seven directors have stepped down from the 76-member NRA board since May, contributing to a period of extraordinary turmoil at the gun rights organization. The nonprofit group is facing intense scrutiny from rank-and-file members and regulators about revelations of lavish spending by LaPierre and top vendors. Democratic attorneys general of the District and New York are investigating the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
Last year, the NRA cut funding for its core missions of firearm safety and education while increasing its spending on legal fees, travel and entertainment. The Washington Post has also reported that NRA money flowed to 18 members of the group’s board of directors, which is tasked with overseeing the nonprofit’s finances.
Childress had joined North in asking the gun organization to hire an independent ethics counsel to review $24 million paid during a 13-month period to an outside law firm hired by the NRA, Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, according to a letter obtained by The Post.
“The Brewer invoices are draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed,” Childress and North wrote in their April 18 letter to the NRA general counsel and the audit committee chairman Charles Cotton, adding, “The secrecy surrounding these large invoices causes suspicion and raises questions.”
The Brewer firm and NRA have defended the payments, saying critics are seeking to undermine the gun rights group.
Cotton said in a statement Tuesday that the letter from Childress and North was “inaccurate” and reflected “a misinformed view of the firm, its billings, and its advocacy for the NRA.” Cotton said he supports the work of the Brewer firm, adding that its relationship with the NRA “has been reviewed, vetted and approved.”
NRA officials have broadly defended their spending as appropriate and say the group remains as strong as ever. In a recent interview with an Arizona radio talk show, Meadows said that the organization continues to have more than 5 million members, adding, “Financially, we’re in good shape.”
Willes K. Lee, the NRA’s second vice president, said in the same radio interview: “We had a little bit of a dust-up last spring. . . . But the big thing is that it’s clear that the membership supports the leadership at the NRA.”
But the battle over the group’s leadership has fueled a spate of departures in recent months. In April, North was ousted as president after trying to force out LaPierre, saying as he stepped down that the group’s finances were in “a clear crisis.” Top lobbyist Christopher W. Cox resigned after he was accused of participating in an alleged extortion scheme with North to push out LaPierre.
Pete Brownell, a onetime NRA president who heads a major supplier of firearms accessories, left in late May.
At the beginning of this month, three NRA board members who had sought more information about the group’s spending practices resigned. The three members — Esther Schneider of Texas, Sean Maloney of Ohio and Timothy Knight of Tennessee — said they had been stripped of their committee assignments.
“While our belief in the NRA’s mission remains as strong today as ever, our confidence in the NRA’s leadership has been shattered,” they wrote in a letter to NRA officials.
A fifth board member resigned Aug. 12, when Julie Golob, a professional sport shooter and a strong public advocate for gun rights, announced she was ending her service before the end of her three-year term.
Golob, a regular on shooting shows who has won multiple competitions and is an advocate for women’s use of firearms, did not state a reason for her departure in a note posted on her website.
Still, most board members have stayed quiet amid the turmoil, while several have publicly voiced their support for LaPierre.
Rob Pincus, an NRA member and firearms trainer who has been helping to lead an effort to reform the board, said he expects more resignations before the group’s board meeting next month in Anchorage. “I’ll be surprised if 50 show up,” he said.
Pincus is advocating for mandatory attendance for board members at meetings, a smaller board and term limits.
Opposition to LaPierre has been building for months following revelations that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in NRA money on clothes and luxury travel. NRA officials have defended those expenses as necessary for media appearances and fundraising.
This month, The Post reported that the NRA chief had wanted the organization to buy him a multimillion-dollar mansion in a gated community in the Dallas area last year, a purchase that did not go through. NRA officials have said the real estate deal was an investment plan pushed by its now-estranged public relations agency, Ackerman McQueen.
While the NRA has also blamed gun-control advocates for fanning opposition to LaPierre, conservatives and NRA members have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of the group’s leadership.
Fox News host Steve Hilton on Sunday called LaPierre “an odious little grifter,” adding, “it’s time for him to go.”
“For years, Wayne has taken NRA members’ money to live the life of a king, but he’s not a king,” Hilton said. “He’s the head of a nonprofit trusted by millions to use its funds to secure constitutional rights.”
Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.