According to a new report by The Trace, court documents filed by Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s former longtime marketing agency, allege that the NRA has paid attorney Bill Brewer’s firm “over $54 million” in the last two years to represent the organization “in multiple lawsuits and leading its response to investigations into possible violations of nonprofit law.” The Trace further reports that “[s]everal NRA officials and employees who have left the gun group” have said that “Brewer’s legal fees have contributed to the cash crunch that recently led to layoffs at the organization.” This contradicts NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who has blamed coronavirus––not the organization’s rampant legal troubles or questionable financial practices––for financial struggles that include layoffs, furloughs, and reduced salaries for employees.
Ackerman McQueen made this allegation in an April 15th brief, which The Trace reports asks “a federal judge to bar William A. Brewer III and his firm from representing the gun group in a lawsuit between the two parties, who have waged a legal battle for a year.”
The Trace’s report, written by Will Van Sant, tells the full story:
- Alleged NRA payments to Brewer: “In their brief, Ackerman’s attorneys estimate ‘upon information and belief’ that the NRA has paid Brewer’s firm ‘over $54 million’ in the last two years.”
- Financial impact on the NRA: “As The Trace has reported, Brewer’s massive legal bills have raised alarms inside the NRA and led to charges that he tried to intimidate and silence staff who questioned his firm’s fees. In the fall of 2019, several board members publicly urged the NRA’s leadership to ‘conduct an outside, independent review of the millions of dollars in payments’ made to Brewer’s firm.”
- Ackerman’s allegations against Brewer: Ackerman’s filing alleges that––through Wayne LaPierre––Brewer “passed a message to his father-in-law [Angus McQueen] and his brother-in-law, Revan McQueen, the company’s chief executive” that threatened “to have the men indicted by the Justice Department for ‘unidentified improprieties related to their work for the NRA.’” Brewer also allegedly passed messages to Ackerman’s father-and-son leadership through family, despite the fact that both men were represented by counsel. As a result, Ackerman’s filing seeks to disqualify Brewer for allegedly “‘side-stepping of the attorney-client privilege,’ his ‘numerous personal and professional’ conflicts in regard to the litigation, and the necessity of his testimony to address claims made by both sides.”
- Brewer’s response: According to The Trace, “the Brewer firm took aim at Ackerman’s arguments, saying they were baseless” in “a filing on another matter also made on April 15.” The NRA and the Brewer now “have until April 27 to provide the judge with a formal response to Ackerman’s disqualification request.”
The NRA now heads into the 2020 elections in turmoil. In addition to the litigation described above, the NRA is facing charges by New York State’s Department of Financial Services and is under investigation by the U.S. Senate and attorneys general in New York and DC. Due to these rampant financial and legal troubles, the Trump administration is reportedly “aggressively reaching out to other gun groups”––a blow to the organization that was the single largest outside spender in President Trump’s 2016 election effort.
The organization’s political influence also appears to be waning. In 2018, the American people elected a gun sense majority in the House of Representatives, leading to the first major gun safety legislation to pass either chamber of Congress in two decades; in 2019, Everytown for Gun Safety outspent the NRA in its home state of Virginia, flipping the statehouse to a gun sense majority and leading to background check and red flag legislation; and in 2020, polling already shows that gun safety is a top priority for voters in battleground states.