16 GOP attorneys general really want the NRA to be able to defraud its donors

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An amicus brief charges that New York Attorney General Letitia James is biased and that the NRA is protected by the First Amendment.

A group of 16 Republican state attorneys general asked a federal court this week to stop their New York Attorney General Letitia James from enforcing the laws of her state.

They charge that James' actions in response to alleged illegality within the National Rifle Association are grounded in bias against the group.

In their filing, the attorney generals argued that James, a Democrat, supports gun control and is therefore biased against the NRA, against which she filed suit in August for, as her office noted, the "culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent."

The amicus brief in support of the NRA, led by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and joined by her colleagues from Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia, asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York to stop James's suit, which asks that the gun-rights association be dissolved. It charges that James is biased and that the NRA is protected by the First Amendment.

"When an organization's primary mission is political advocacy, involuntary dissolution risks the appearance of constitutionally problematic, viewpoint-based targeting. Perhaps no situation is riper for potential abuse than when an attorney general investigates and initiates enforcement action against an organization that is a political rival," the brief says. "The stakes are even higher when the extraordinary remedy of involuntary dissolution is sought."

The attorneys general praise the NRA as "the country's oldest and one of its most important civil rights organizations" and note that James called it a "criminal enterprise" and a "terrorist organization."

"These are not the words of a state official scrupulously enforcing nonprofit governance law. Rather those words underscore what the New York AG's dissolution case really is: a politically minded assault on free speech and an effort to destroy both a fundamental constitutional right and a political opponent defending that right."

The suit filed by James charges that the leadership of the NRA spent decades enriching themselves out of the nonprofit's funds and knowingly filing fraudulent reports.

"The NRA's influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets," she said.

James said, "The corruption was so broad, they have basically destroyed all the assets of the NRA. Enough was enough. ... No one is above the law, not even the NRA."

The NRA dismissed James' actions as a "power grab."

But while the 16 Republican attorneys general suggest the case is nothing but a witch hunt against gun rights defenders, the NRA has already admitted to some of the allegations that its leaders had used the tax-exempt organization's money as their "personal piggy bank," in James' words.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the group had reported in its 2019 tax return that it "became aware during 2019 of a significant diversion of its assets" and that current and former NRA leaders had received improper “excess benefits," including hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of travel expenses incurred by chief executive Wayne LaPierre that he has since "corrected" through repayment.

James on Tuesday was undaunted, saying in a statement, "The NRA has been a breeding ground of fraud, abuse, and brazen illegality," she said. "Simply put, the rot runs deep, which is why our lawsuit to dissolve the organization will continue undeterred."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.