Wayne LaPierre faces hard questions about lavish spending of NRA donor funds

Gun Rights

Longtime NRA head Wayne LaPierre, who took his donors’ illiberal, anti-Hollywood animus and turned it into fancy haircuts for his wife, has been in court the past couple of days trying to explain himself and the NRA’s eyebrow-raising expenses—many of which appear wholly unrelated to ensuring no one pries the rifle from Charlton Heston’s room-temperature hands.

Recall that in August 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James—who really needs to be honored with a marble statue somewhere (perhaps in my front yard among the sundry Lindsey Graham gnomes)—sued the NRA over allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement. Now those chickenhawks are coming home to roost (i.e., appear in court to defend themselves).

And so just days after discovering the money they’ve sent to Donald Trump will likely go to a charity E. Jean Carroll supports and “Trump hates”—assuming there’s any cash left over from her lavish celebratory fondue party with Taylor Swift and George Soros—MAGA Republicans are now learning exactly how careless the NRA has been with their donor funds.

RELATED STORY: Secret recording shows NRA treasurer plotting to conceal expenses involving Wayne LaPierre

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On Monday, it was LaPierre’s turn in the barrel. Earlier this month, just before the civil trial was set to begin, LaPierre resigned from his leadership position, effective Jan. 31. But that didn’t allow him to skirt the looming scrutiny over his questionable spending.

The New York Times:

The state has laid out many instances of Mr. LaPierre’s extravagant spending, including more than $250,000 on suits at one Beverly Hills boutique. There were also trips where Mr. LaPierre and his family were hosted by N.R.A. vendors with lucrative contracts on a luxury yacht called Illusions. And there was prodigious spending on charter flights; Mr. LaPierre didn’t dispute that some flights were solely for relatives. One family trip to the Bahamas cost the N.R.A. nearly $38,000.

The N.R.A. also sometimes paid more than $10,000 a session for hair and makeup for Mr. LaPierre’s wife, Susan, who used a stylist who had also worked on Hallmark movies.

Hallmark movies? That has to be a tough one to explain to the membership. Sure, it might have been even harder to explain a $10,000 outlay to the Duck Dynasty stylist—for very different reasons, of course—but at least that would have sat better with the NRA’s generous donors.

Oddly, LaPierre has copped to much of his extravagant spending under questioning from the organization’s own lawyer, who is attempting to rescue the NRA from the scrutiny precipitated by years of LaPierre’s alleged mismanagement.

The legal fireworks appeared to be part of a strategy to bolster the contention of Mr. LaPierre and the N.R.A. that they have reformed governance and that regulatory intervention is unnecessary. But it reinforced criticism from Mr. LaPierre’s former lieutenants that he was an inept and corrupt manager.

Weird. You’d think a guy who’s dedicated his whole being to making random public shootings far more frequent, deadly, and traumatizing would be completely beyond reproach. Or at least be satisfied with L.L. Bean. But no.

Monday marked LaPierre’s second day of testimony. On Friday, LaPierre acknowledged he’d taken lavish trips without the NRA board’s approval, including yacht excursions with a friend whose company had been paid “millions” by the NRA for producing a television program hosted by LaPierre.

NBC News:

[LaPierre] confirmed under oath that NRA funds were used to bankroll a flight from the Bahamas to Washington, D.C., in 2017 that cost more than $22,000, for example. He conceded that NRA rules mandate that employees fly coach.

He testified that, on occasion, family members would fly on private planes when he was not present. He authorized a $11,000 flight taken by his niece Colleen Sterner, an NRA employee, and her daughter, for instance.

He testified that he and his family often traveled on a luxury yacht, known as Illusions, owned by David McKenzie, the head of a television production company that had a contract with the NRA. McKenzie and his wife hosted the LaPierres for vacations in the Bahamas and joined them for trips to India and Abu Dhabi.

The state also showed jurors copies of reimbursement requests for, let’s just say, “questionable” expenses, including $830 Bergdorf Goodman candlesticks for McKenzie’s daughter, a stay over $6,000 at the Beverly Hills Hotel for Sterner, and gifts from Neiman Marcus.

LaPierre was back in court on Tuesday, and Stephen Gutowski—a CNN contributor, longtime NRA beat reporter, and founder of the firearms-focused website The Reload—was in the room. On Monday, Gutowski reported that LaPierre had authorized private helicopter rides to help “himself and others … avoid traffic at NASCAR races.”

See if you buy any of this:

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Yes, it’s very important to ensure that every American’s inalienable right to lug an elephant gun into Arby’s is protected. Totally relevant to the mission.

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Lyme disease is a grave affliction that can have serious long-term consequences, but it’s okay if it’s hard for you to believe that’s really why LaPierre resigned just days before this trial was set to begin. Maybe he’s being honest. Or maybe something else has gotten under his skin.

RELATED STORY: Wayne LaPierre quits as NRA head on eve of civil trial

For his part, LaPierre has defended many of the seemingly extravagant expenses as completely necessary. For instance, he took private plane trips to keep all those anti-gun nuts upset over the Sandy Hook shooting from coming at him on commercial airliners with AR-15s pointy sticks. 

Associated Press:

While acknowledging that some of the private air travel was wrong to accept, he claims the bulk of it was done to satisfy his head of security, who said flying commercial was no longer safe for him after 2013. At the time, he was arguing against gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people.

LaPierre’s three days of testimony have now wrapped up, but the NRA’s problems show no signs of ending.

The New York Attorney General’s office is seeking financial penalties and hoping to ban the defendants—who include LaPierre, former General Counsel John Frazer, and former finance chief Wilson Phillips—from working for any New York-based nonprofits. The NRA itself is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

Of course, even before this trial further exposed LaPierre’s (alleged!) corruption and financial mismanagement, the NRA was rapidly circling the Beverly Hills Hotel bidet drain. Revenues from membership dues and other sources have plummeted in recent years. In 2022, for instance, the nonprofit raised roughly $130 million, less than half its $264 million haul in 2016 at the height of MAGA mania.

And we all extend our sincere thoughts and prayers to LaPierre’s wife and niece, who may be forced for the foreseeable future to stay at Motel 6s with the organization’s more crudely coiffed donors.

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Check out Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s four-volume Trump-trashing compendium, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link.

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