By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The National Rifle Association paid powerhouse Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer more than a quarter million dollars last year in the wake of the Parkland school massacre, according to an internal NRA document obtained by Florida Bulldog.
But you won’t find that payment disclosed on quarterly compensation reports that lobbying firms and contract lobbyists are required to file with the Florida Senate. Hammer, both an NRA board member and a Florida registered NRA lobbyist, hasn’t filed any compensation reports there since at least 2007, state records show.
The payment to Hammer was disclosed in an April 27 report listing various payments made to NRA board members and staff for “goods or service.” It was handed out to NRA members at the association’s annual meeting in Indianapolis last month.
“Ms. Marion Hammer, executive director of Unified Sportsmen of Florida, received $270,000 for consulting services and legislative lobbying in Florida,” says the report by the NRA secretary. Unified Sportsmen is a nonprofit affiliate of the NRA.
Another internal NRA report, dated May 5, 2018 and presented to members at last year’s NRA annual gathering in Dallas, says Hammer was paid $134,000 in 2017 “for legislative lobbying in Florida.”
There were additional payments. NRA tax returns show that Hammer received $147,000 in 2014, $172,000 in 2015 and $206,000 in 2016. The total: $525,000. For each of those years, the NRA reported she worked an average of five hours per week. None of it was reported to state lobbyist regulators.
Hammer, who in the mid-1990s became the first woman to serve as NRA president, declined to comment.
A spending scandal
The nonprofit NRA’s payments to Hammer come to light amid a mushrooming spending scandal involving Hammer’s important ally, recently re-elected executive director Wayne LaPierre. Over the weekend, leaked internal NRA documents detailed allegations of improper spending, including the use of an American Express card issued to him by the NRA’s longtime advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, to pay $13,804.84 in rent in 2016 for an apartment in Fairfax, VA near NRA headquarters for NRA summer intern Megan Allen. Allen is today an NRA gift-planning associate.
Documents posted on NRA chat rooms also revealed that Oklahoma-based Ackerman McQueen allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars for clothing on LaPierre’s behalf.
An April 22 letter from Ackerman’s chief financial officer, William Winkler, asks LaPierre to provide original receipts for “your wardrobe you required us to provide, specifically purchases at the Zegna store in Beverly Hills, Ca. Due to the substantial nature of the total ($274,695.03), we should address these items immediately. I have attached the listing of purchases by date and amount for your convenience.”
The NRA sued Ackerman McQueen and its public relations subsidiary Mercury Group in April, contending that it had wrongly refused to provide it with certain business records, including contracts and billing information, according to a story in The Oklahoman. In particular, the story says, the suit contends that Ackerman refused to turn over a copy of its contract with recently deposed NRA President Oliver North.
The NRA lawsuit remains active, but since May 7 has been listed as “removed from the docket” in Alexandria, VA Circuit Court.
On the defensive
While Hammer collected $270,000 from the NRA last year to fight gun control in Florida, she was often on the defensive in the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018 slaughter at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead. “After news of the Parkland shooting broke, I received numerous harassing emails and phone calls threatening my life and physical well-being. Those threats continue to this day,” Hammer wrote in a declaration filed in federal court in April 2018.
Still, under Hammer’s fierce leadership, the Florida Legislature passed the landmark “Right to Carry” law, allowing weapons, including handguns, to be carried in public in a concealed manner. She also helped secure many other pro-gun laws, including the “Firearms Preemption Law” that eliminated hundreds of gun-control ordinances in cities and counties across Florida and a law that protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits.
While Hammer is the registered lobbyist for both Unified Sportsmen and the NRA, she is an employee of Unified Sportsmen, where the group’s tax returns list her annual salary as $110,000. In contrast, the internal NRA report describes board member Hammer as a “consultant and legislative lobbyist” for the association in Florida. Consultants are not employees.
Florida law requires lobbying firms, defined to include individual contract lobbyists, to file reports for each calendar quarter disclosing their total compensation from clients. The disclosures are not specific, but are made in various ranges, for example, from $50,000 to $99,999.
Employees who do in-house lobbying for their employer, as Hammer does for Unified Sportsmen, are generally not required to register or file compensation reports. But contract lobbyists like the NRA’s Hammer who are paid fees for their services must register and disclose.
During the registration process, lobbyists are asked whether they are, or belong to, a lobbying firm and if so to identify that firm by name, address and telephone number. Such disclosure is mandatory, and for those who register to lobby the Executive Branch, like Hammer, is made under oath. The Legislature, where Hammer is also registered, does not require an oath.
Belief without proof
Since 2006, Hammer has listed no lobbying entity for either the NRA or Unified Sportsmen. And when no firm is listed, the lobbyist registration office in the Office of Legislative Services in Tallahassee assumes that the filer is an employee, according to General Counsel Audrey Moore.
“We only come to know about lobbying firms through the registration process,” said Moore. “Everyone who is a lobbyist has to fill out the form and if you identify a firm that triggers” the requirement to file compensation reports. “There is no affirmative duty to say you are an employee.”
Failure to file timely compensation reports can be assessed $50 per day per report for each late day, up to $5,000 per report. Lobbying firms may request the filing of a report be waived “upon good cause shown, based on unusual circumstances.” The President of the Senate and Speaker of the House may, by joint agreement, grant or deny the request.
Over the weekend, in NRA chat rooms concerns were voiced about the money the association has paid to Marion Hammer.
“Wayne and Hammer can follow North out the door,” wrote one commenter.
“Marion Hammer receiving $270,000 for what she ‘does’ in Florida has been [a] well known bone of contention for quite some time,” wrote another.
Still, at age 80, Hammer remains a formidable force in both the capitol, where her ability to strike political fear in the hearts of uncooperative politicians is legendary, and within the NRA.
In January, she wrote a piece endorsing LaPierre’s re-election. Last month, the NRA’s 76 board members unanimously backed LaPierre after NRA President Oliver North – he of Iran-Contra fame – abruptly announced he would not seek another term. North warned of a “crisis” involving allegations of financial misconduct.
Said Hammer, “Wayne is one of the most humble guys I know. But behind his unassuming nature lies the soul of a shrewd and courageous fighter. Unlike some, he will fight like hell to protect your rights … Wayne is who the NRA and the Second Amendment need today and in the future.”