By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Last week, the National Rifle Association announced that its longtime Tallahassee-based lobbyist Marion Hammer will “step down” but “continue to serve as an advisor to the NRA.”
That’s a curious turn of a phrase. But it has a simple, unstated meaning: Hammer, 83, will soon be able to dodge once again regularly disclosing to Floridians the splendid sums the NRA slips regularly into her purse, currently more than $50,000 every three months.
This time, perhaps, legally.
Three years ago, after Florida Bulldog disclosed that Hammer, former NRA president, hadn’t filed any lobbyist compensation forms, a potentially costly infraction, since the state began requiring them in 2007. She tried wriggling out of trouble by saying, among other things, that she was “a consultant and not a lobbyist,” according to then-state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and therefore not required to file such a report.
Hammer’s tale didn’t work – among other things, she’d been a registered NRA lobbyist for years – but her Republican allies in high places came through for her.
LAPIERRE AND MARION HAMMER
The Florida Senate brushed off its obligation to investigate complaints about Hammer, steering her case to a bureaucrat under the Senate president’s control. The bureaucrat told Hammer to retroactively file some old reports, then referred the matter to the state ethics commission, which found “no probable cause” to think Hammer hadn’t followed lobbyist disclosure rules.
So, for the duration of Hammer’s 10-year, $220,000 annual contract with the NRA, signed in April 2018, she’ll continue to rake in the gun group’s money, but won’t be obliged to fill out those pesky NRA lobbyist disclosure forms.
But that’s not the only NRA money that’s softening Hammer’s old age. The woman who has been the NRA’s face in Florida since the late 1970s collects another $180,000 annually via the NRA’s lobbying arm, NRA-ILA, as well as NRA grants funneled through Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the group Hammer founded and has run for more than a generation.
How do we know that? Hammer’s old pal, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, disclosed it in testimony he gave while defending against New York’s lawsuit that accuses top NRA executives of multiple financial improprieties and seeks to dissolve the NRA.
Earlier this month, a New York judge dismissed the NRA’s claims that the case is a political vendetta by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat. In March, New York City Judge Joel Cohen also dismissed the lawsuit’s attempt to shut down the NRA, but ruled the state’s two-year-old case can proceed. Should the state prevail, other remedies including fines could be imposed.
The NRA’s June 16 press release announcing Hammer would no longer serve as a “state lobbyist for the NRA-Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) in Florida” quoted LaPierre as calling her “a dynamic and legendary advocate who has led the way with many laws that started in Florida and then served as a blueprint across the country.”
MARION HAMMER AND SCHOOLS
It wasn’t always that way. In the 1980s, following nationwide headlines about a string of shootings in Miami-Dade that left 30 children under the age of 18 dead, Hammer unsuccessfully pushed an audacious plan for statewide gun education in schools, for students from kindergarten to the sixth grade.
“Children don’t understand the finality of death. They see people on TV programs shot and killed and then see them walking around on another show next week. Why should a child die needlessly for lack of education over an implement, a tool? What we need is basic safety information,” Hammer told The Miami News in July 1988.
Hammer had more success in the decades that followed. For example, she was a key force behind Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground Law,” that abolished the duty to retreat and allowed the use of deadly force if a person has a “reasonable” fear of death or great bodily harm, and the ‘’Castle Doctrine,’’ which gave individuals the right to use deadly force against an intruder into their home. While NRA president between 1996-1998 Hammer launched the Eddie Eagle Gun Safe program, which she has said is her proudest achievement.
The Tampa Bay Times interviewed Hammer after the announcement of what it termed her “retirement.”
“Hammer’s retirement means she will not be the NRA’s lobbyist during the 2023 legislative session, where a bill addressing permitless carry has been promised by a top Republican lawmaker. But she said she will try to push for the legislation from afar in her new role,” the paper said.
That sure sounds like Hammer intends to continue lobbying.
NEW YORK VS NRA
The New York Attorney General’s office amended its lawsuit against the NRA, LaPierre and three other current and former NRA executives in early May. On page 132 it discusses how the NRA’s audit committee “purported to retroactively approve existing NRA contracts” with Hammer’s Unified Sportsmen of Florida and other groups that “presented conflicts of interest.”
The first example cited in the lawsuit of “related party transactions and conflicts of interest that were improperly approved by the Audit Committee” was its April 28, 2019, retroactive approval of “approximately $3,692,000 paid by the NRA to Unified Sportsmen of Florida over a nineteen-year period.” (Emphasis in the document)
The lawsuit notes that Hammer, identified only as NRA board member No. 5, is the executive director of Unified Sportsmen. “At the same meeting, the Committee also prospectively approved future payments by the NRA to Unified Sportsmen of Florida,” the amended lawsuit says.
The New York lawsuit recounts how, under LaPierre’s leadership, the NRA “routinely entered’’ into agreements with board members while ignoring both NRA policy and New York law requiring the full board to determine in advance that the transactions were “fair, reasonable and in the NRA’s best interests.”
Among the complaint’s listed examples were a pair of lucrative contracts given to Hammer. The first was a one-year contract in December 2017 for $168,000. The second was Hammer’s 10-year contract for $220,000 annually, both “negotiated” by her ally, LaPierre.
“Upon information and belief, LaPierre did not notify or receive approval from the Audit Committee in advance of executing the April 2018 contract,” the lawsuit says. “Upon information and belief, LaPierre did not receive written approval in advance from the President or a Vice President before executing the December 2017 or April 2018 contracts…LaPierre did not follow appropriate legal and internal procedures.”
In court filings replying to New York State’s assertion that he failed to follow proper procedures, LaPierre’s lawyers wrote, “Mr. LaPierre lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations set forth.”