Editor’s note: Col. Oliver North announced Saturday morning he will not seek re-election as president of the NRA.
The National Rifle Association took a shot at its own president just days before the kick-off of its huge national meeting.
An updated version of a civil complaint, entered in Virginia state court on April 24, make new claims about Col. Oliver North’s relationship with the company that runs NRATV, the video network linked to the gun rights group. The filings are part of an eye-popping lawsuit the organization filed against its long-time ad agency, which built and runs the network. The suit gives a rare narrative of the tension within the organization. And the updates to the litigation, which have not been previously reported, indicate that friction in the organization is so hot that the NRA is willing to zero in on its own president.
The initial complaint, filed on April 12, discussed North’s contract with Ackerman McQueen, the advertising firm it has worked with for upwards of 30 years. But it didn’t provide much detail on North’s relationship with the ad agency beyond that he would help it produce a documentary series for NRATV.
The updates to the complaint include more detail about North’s work and point to deep irritation between the group and its president. Not only did North fail to deliver on all of the material he promised for NRATV, the suit alleges, but North, in effect, double-dipped by drawing a salary from both the gun rights group and Ackerman McQueen at the same time. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal published a letter Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's powerful executive vice president, sent to the NRA board on Thursday alleging that North tried to blackmail him into quitting the organization.
Representatives of the NRA, North, and Ackerman McQueen did not comment for this story.
According to the suit, the NRA “spent substantial sums on NRATV based on AMC’s [Ackerman McQueen’s] advice” that the programming would result in an influx of cash from fans and sponsors. But that apparently didn’t happen.
The returns on investment, the complaint says, were “less favorable” than the firm predicted—even though North and Ackerman “assured the NRA that Col. North’s profile and ‘brand’ would be actively leveraged to elicit sponsorships for the North documentary series,” the lawsuit reads. North’s brand didn’t make it rain.
Then the NRA’s lawsuit rips into that documentary series. North didn’t deliver as many episodes as the nonprofit expected, according to the suit, and hasn’t demonstrated that he was able to bring in the hoped-for sponsorship cash. “[T]he NRA has no evidence that any substantial sponsorships exist,” the complaint reads. The implications, the suit continues, are “troubling.”
On top of that, the lawsuit claims that North is closer to Ackerman McQueen (sometimes referred to as “Ack Mack”) than the NRA was first led to believe. On Feb. 19, according to the suit, the NRA learned that North wasn’t just a third-party contractor with the firm––rather, he actually received a salary from it, as an employee. If the NRA had known he was on salary, it wouldn’t have signed off on giving him as generous of a contract for the NRATV work as it did.
“The NRA agreed to shoulder a specific financial burden in connection with a specific digital-media project—not to allow its President to be compensated by a for-profit advertising agency for performing generic leadership functions,” the suit says.
The claims about North come as the group is holding its annual gathering in Indianapolis, Indiana. The board will convene, and will likely weigh in on the matters the suit touches on.
Those matters will be particularly front-of-mind because of LaPierre’s letter, which the Journal published. LaPierre said that North told him, through an intermediary, that if he didn’t step down from the NRA, North would share information about him with the board that would be “bad” for him and the NRA. The threatened letter would include allegations of sexual harassment, financial mismanagement, and “wardrobe expenses,” among other charges.
For conservatives, the NRA has a lot in common with the Vatican: powerful, revered, and almost entirely opaque for outsiders. So for the group to publicize in court a messy internecine dispute over money matters indicates the allegations against one of its oldest, closest vendors are just a hint of the group’s internal fights. And the letter the Journal published indicates that fight is really, really messy.
Over the years, the NRA has capitalized on the notion—perceived and real—that it is a top target of the American left. In a recent fundraising letter obtained by The Daily Beast, LaPierre warned the group could close down “very soon.”
“[R]ight now we’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the NRA, but in the entire history of our country,” LaPierre wrote. “And if this attack succeeds, NRA will be forced to shut down forever.”
The NRA’s stated concerns about outside threats aren’t at all meritless; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has honed in on the organization, warning financial institutions against working with it. And activists pushing for stricter gun laws—including the group Everytown for Gun Safety and the students from Parkland High School—are organized, strategic, and more visible than ever.
But the new court filings hint that the organization’s internal skirmishes and struggles may be just as big of a threat.