A lawsuit has been filed to dissolve one of America’s most powerful lobby groups that has strong ties to the Republican party and backed Donald Trump’s 2016 election.
New York’s attorney general has taken aim at the National Rifle Association (NRA), alleging it was being used as a piggybank for high-ranking officials who diverted millions of dollars for their personal use.
The NRA has been one of the biggest voices opposing gun control in the USA and a major political influence supporting the Republican party, including seeking to help Mr Trump seek a second term.
The lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, claims top executives used the organisation’s money for lavish personal trips including one example of its chief executive Wayne LaPierre visiting the Bahamas eight times on a private jet.
It’s alleged LaPierre, 70, spent millions of dollars on private travel and personal security, accepted expensive gifts such as African safaris and used a 107-foot yacht from vendors.
It’s also claimed the long-time public face of the pro-gun group, which claims to have five million members, set himself up with a $17 million contract with the NRA, if he were to exit the organisation, without board approval.
The lawsuit comes at a time when the NRA’s public funding and support has waned in the wake of a series of mass shootings in the USA and its bank balance took a huge dive.
The organisation went from a nearly $28 million surplus in 2015 to a $36 million deficit in 2018.
Mr LaPierre is one of four named defendants which include Wilson Phillips, Joshua Powell and John Frazer.
He is accused of being a “central figure” behind the NRA’s questionable expenditures which were “so broad”, according to Ms James, that total dissolution of the group was necessary.
The lawsuit follows an 18-month investigation which uncovered the alleged misspending and self-dealing that has roiled the NRA and its longtime leader.
Ms James argued the organisation’s prominence and cosy political relationships had enabled a culture where non-profit rules were routinely flouted and state and federal laws were violated.
Even the NRA’s own bylaws and employee handbook were ignored, she said.
“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organisation went unchecked for decades while top executives funnelled millions into their own pockets,” Ms James said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organisation is above the law.”
Mr Trump accused the Democrats of targeting the NRA and tweeted that Americans would have their guns taken off them if his rival Joe Biden was elected president.
Just like Radical Left New York is trying to destroy the NRA, if Biden becomes President your GREAT SECOND AMENDMENT doesn’t have a chance. Your guns will be taken away, immediately and without notice. No police, no guns!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2020
In response to the allegations the NRA told the BBC the lawsuit was a “baseless, premeditated attack”.
Though it is headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a non-profit in New York in 1871 and continues to be incorporated in the state.