The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three NRA board members resign in latest sign of upheaval at gun rights group

An image of Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, at the group’s convention in Indianapolis in April. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Three National Rifle Association board members who have raised concerns about reports of reckless spending and mismanagement by the group’s leadership resigned Thursday, another sign of mounting dissent within the nation’s most powerful gun-rights group.

The three board members — Esther Schneider of Texas, Sean Maloney of Ohio and Timothy Knight of Tennessee — said they were stripped of their committee assignments after they asked questions about allegations of lavish spending by NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and other financial excesses.

“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 Thursday obtained by The Washington Post.

NRA President Carolyn D. Meadows said in a written statement that the organization accepts the resignations.

“We look forward to working with our new board members in furthering our noble mission of protecting our Second Amendment rights on behalf of our millions of members,” she said.

The three members represent a small share of the NRA’s 76-member board. But their resignations are the latest in a series of dramatic upheavals at the organization. In recent months, NRA President Oliver North was ousted after raising concerns about the group’s finances and top lobbyist Christopher W. Cox resigned after he was accused of participating in an alleged extortion scheme to push out LaPierre.

Before North was forced out, he said the NRA’s outside attorney reaped “extraordinary” legal fees that totaled millions of dollars in the past year. NRA officials have said that figure was inaccurate and have repeatedly defended the group’s spending as responsible.

NRA money flowed to board members amid allegedly lavish spending by top officials and vendors

The NRA is also contending with multiple investigations, as both the District’s attorney general and the New York Attorney General have demanded financial records from the nonprofit and its charitable foundation.

Former U.S. Rep. Allen B. West, who was the first board member to call for LaPierre's resignation, said in an interview he was remaining on the board. However, he said he would not be attending the next board meeting in September, which is set to be held in Anchorage. “I think that’s a waste of money,” West said.

West said that “the membership of the National Rifle Association deserves better when it comes to fiscal responsibility because they donate their hard-earned dollars, $25 or $50 at a time, for the protection of the Second Amendment, not the protection of the cabal of cronyism.”

In their letter, Schneider, Maloney and Knight said they have sought information from NRA leaders as part of their oversight responsibilities as board members, “only to be rebuffed at every turn.”

“We had expected – or at least hoped— that the executive leadership team would recognize the seriousness of these allegations and work with us in a constructive and transparent manner to address our concerns and minimize any further harm to the Association,” they wrote. “Instead, we have been stonewalled, accused of disloyalty, stripped of committee assignments and denied effective counsel necessary to properly discharge our responsibilities as Board members.”

Inside the NRA’s finances: Deepening debt, increased spending on legal fees — and cuts to gun training

Other board members have risen to the defense of LaPierre and the current leadership.

Board member Marion Hammer, who lobbies on behalf of the NRA in Florida, on Thursday wrote in a text message to The Post her reaction to the departing board members: “Don’t let the door hit you in the back on your way out.”

She said the trio “made a treacherous attempt to overthrow leadership and lost, now they’re unhappy nobody trusts them and doesn’t want them on committees where they can continue to disrupt the organization.”

Another board member, Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, said the disgruntled board members are undercutting an organization already under attack from Democrats and gun control groups. Ross successfully lobbied three years ago for the September meeting to be held in his hometown and defended the NRA’s practice of covering airfare, lodging and food for board members.

“Believe it or not, it’s the same distance from Washington to Alaska as it is from Alaska to Washington,” he said. “This is the National Rifle Association of America, and we have board members all over the country.”

Still, calls for LaPierre’s resignation have been building from NRA stalwarts popular on YouTube and talk radio, as well as rank-and-file members who have been fuming on social media. Some longtime members formed a nonprofit called Save the Second that is seeking to overhaul the NRA by shrinking the 76-member board, imposing term limits and setting minimum attendance requirements.

Resistance is also building among donors. Randy Luth, a Minnesota-based firearms executive, said he has nixed plans to donate part of his estate — a seven-figure value — to the NRA. He has also cancelled plans to match a previous donation of $50,000 and ceased advertising in NRA publications.

“I’m not one of the biggest donors but I am a donor, and until Wayne LaPierre and his cronies are removed or retired, I am suspending my donations,” he said. “All these stories of extravagant spending — it shouldn’t happen at any nonprofit, let alone the NRA.”

Meanwhile, the NRA is still enmeshed in a lawsuit with New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), who issued a directive last year urging insurance and financial services companies to review their relationships with the organization. It came after a state investigation found the NRA’s “Carry Guard” insurance product violated New York law.

Scrutiny of the organization has also increased on Capitol Hill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been investigating the organization’s finances and ties to Russia.

At the same time, the NRA is contending with the loss of Cox, who had led the organization’s political and lobbying arm since 2002 and was considered one of its most effective and high-profile leaders. The political arm spent more than $30 million to help elect President Trump.