The National Rifle Association’s embattled top executive earned about $2 million last year at a time when the gun rights lobby is beating back challenges from regulators, longtime members and gun control groups, according to tax filings cited in media reports.
The tax filings come as the NRA faces investigations in New York and Washington, D.C., that threaten its nonprofit status. Nonprofits file tax documents every year, and they are a year behind, capturing the NRA’s finances for 2018 — the year before internal strife spilled into public view.
The tax filings were not yet publicly available, but news reports in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post cited the documents. The NRA refused to make them available to The Associated Press, saying its longtime policy is only to provide paper copies by mail.
According to the filings, known as 990s, longtime NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s total compensation rose to more than $2 million. His base salary went from $1.17 million to $1.27 million, he received a bonus of about $455,000, and he got about $366,000 from a deferred compensation plan, according to the documents cited in media reports.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in a statement that compensation for LaPierre and other senior officials followed a “detailed analysis conducted by an independent compensation committee. Mr. LaPierre’s compensation includes benefits made payable under his retirement plan.”
The news reports drew immediate rebukes from critics.
“This is further evidence that, at this point, LaPierre is more of a burden than an asset to American gun owners,” said Rob Pincus, a longtime NRA member and firearms instructor who is a member of Save the Second, a group calling for LaPierre's resignation and seeking changes to the NRA.
Long viewed as the most powerful gun lobby in the world, the NRA has been facing internal and external pressures over its operations and spending habits. Authorities have launched investigations, and there has been a revolt by members who are questioning the NRA's finances and leadership.
There are allegations that LaPierre expensed hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury clothing he purchased in Beverly Hills and that the NRA has made tens of thousands of dollars in payments to a handful of influential board members.
The NRA's president, Oliver North, stepped down amid a rancorous annual meeting last spring. And Chris Cox, its top lobbyist who is widely viewed as a successor to LaPierre, resigned after being accused of being in cahoots with North in a failed attempt to oust LaPierre as CEO.
The disputes even led to a split between the NRA and its longtime marketing firm, Oklahoma-based Ackerman McQueen, and each sued the other.
The upheaval has left some wondering what role the NRA can play in the 2020 presidential election, especially after it was a significant source of money and support for President Donald Trump.
The latest tax filing shows that the NRA ended 2018 with a $2.7 million shortfall. That’s still a vast improvement from what it reported in 2017, when it was $17.8 million in the red, or in 2016, when it posted a shortfall of $45.8 million.
“The spending of the NRA’s political arm fluctuates based on the needs of each political cycle,” Arulanandam said. “We remain a driving influence in key races where our Second Amendment freedoms are under attack, and we remain poised to further activate our funding and grassroots advocacy in support of the 2020 election.”
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, said the tax filings show the NRA’s true motivations.
“This eye-popping raise and other inside dealing is yet more evidence that the NRA is abandoning its members to focus on what is apparently its chief mission: enriching executives. Given the multiple ongoing investigations, I’d bet that come 2020, the NRA won’t be writing political checks — they’ll be answering subpoenas.”
However, NRA President Carolyn Meadows said LaPierre’s compensation is justified, reflecting “his enormous contributions to our members and the freedoms for which they fight. His contributions to the NRA have been transformative.”