By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer was identified Thursday in a New York Attorney General’s lawsuit as being the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in NRA funds illegally diverted to her as part of an audacious self-dealing scheme led by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre.
The lawsuit recounts various unapproved payments to “Board Member No. 5,” as Hammer is referred to in the complaint, from the “Executive Vice President’s Consulting Budget” since 2004. That includes a 10-year contract executed in April 2018 by LaPierre and the 81-year-old Hammer for $220,000 annually, the complaint said.
“Board Member No. 5 also receives compensation from NRA-ILA [the NRA’s lobbying arm, or Institute for Legislative Action] and through grants paid to an organization called the Unified Sportsmen of Florida,” the lawsuit says. Hammer is Unified Sportsmen of Florida’s executive director and sole employee.
“LaPierre testified that, combined, Board Member No. 5 receives about $400,000 in annual compensation from the NRA,” the lawsuit says. LaPierre was deposed by New York Attorney General Letitia James during the office’s investigation.
LaPierre, 70, and Hammer have been political allies within the NRA for years. Hammer has supported LaPierre’s leadership and consistently backed him for reappointment as the group’s chief executive.
“We need proven, strong, steady and shrewd leadership. Someone who President Trump himself calls and trusts and someone who will give President Trump the unadorned truth,” she wrote in an “official communication” on Ammoland.com in May. “We have that leader. And we should all pray that our leader for the next generation is just and dedicated to our cause as Wayne LaPierre.”
The lawsuit says the NRA “routinely” entered into agreements with board members “without adhering to applicable requirements under NRA policy and New York law requiring a Board determination in advance that the transaction was fair, reasonable and in the NRA’s best interest.”
New York AG seeks to dissolve NRA
The NRA is a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit charitable corporation that’s been registered in New York since 1871. Its assets are required by New York law to be “used in a way that serves the interest of NRA membership and that advance the organization’s charitable mission,’’ according to a press release that accompanied the 169-page lawsuit.
The complaint filed by James seeks to dissolve the NRA, the largest and most influential pro-gun organization in the nation, because of illegal conduct. The release said the scheme included the “diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty.”
The Attorney General’s Office is also seeking an accounting of those allegedly misspent funds.
The NRA countersued later Thursday in federal court in New York, contending that James’s action was politically motivated.
The suit charged that the NRA as a whole, as well as LaPierre, former Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Wilson “Woody” Phillips, former Chief of Staff Joshua Powell and Corporate Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer, with “failing to manage the NRA’s funds and failing to follow numerous state and federal laws, contributing the loss of more than $64 million in just three years for the NRA.”
The four men allegedly instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive and fraudulent. “They overrode and evaded internal controls to allow themselves, their families, favored board members, employees and vendors to benefit through reimbursed expenses, related party transactions, excess compensation, side deals and waste of charitable assets without regard to the NRA’s best interests,” the press release said. Those sho challenged them were said to be retaliated against.
Florida Commission on Ethics
On Thursday, Florida Bulldog reported that Florida’s Commission on Ethics decided to dismiss and find “no probable cause” on charges that Hammer failed for years to follow state lobbyist registration and compensation disclosure requirements. The NRA payments that Hammer reported receiving from the NRA differed, sometimes, substantially, to the amounts asserted in the New York lawsuit.
For example, the New York Attorney General’s Office said that from 2014 to 2017 Hammer was paid an average of approximately $150,000 a year from LaPierre’s budget. The lawsuit also says that in 2017 LaPierre and Hammer executed a one-year contract for $168,000.
Hammer told Florida authorities she received $197,000 in 2014, $256,000 in 2016 and $184,000 in 2017. She provided no amount for 2015. The higher numbers, then, would appear to reflect additional payments Hammer received from NRA-ILA.
Even so, if the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit correctly quotes LaPierre, Hammer’s annual income from the NRA is now about $400,000. But Hammer’s quarterly lobbyist compensation reports for the past year, including her most recent filing on July 1, disclose NRA payments to her of no more than half that amount, or between $160,000 and $200,000.
LaPierre testified that he negotiated the 2017 contract as well as the 10-year 2018 contract with Hammer.
“LaPierre did not follow appropriate legal and internal procedures, including obtaining proper review and approval by the Audit Committee, in advance of executing contracts with Board Member No. 5,” the lawsuit says.