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The NRA misused donations with its former ad agency, lawsuit alleges

Ad Age 08 Aug 2019 08:47

It’s been three months since Oklahoma-based agency Ackerman McQueen broke up with the National Rifle Association, and yet the relationship between the two is under more scrutiny than ever. A new lawsuit against the NRA has put the spotlight on reports that the gun-rights group abused charitable donations, potentially in cahoots with AM.

In Nashville’s U.S. District Court on Tuesday, longtime NRA donor David Dell’Aquila filed a civil suit against the NRA, the NRA Foundation, and NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre, alleging the trio collectively committed fraud in their solicitation and implementation of donations from members. 

The claim, which is filed on behalf of everyone who has donated to the NRA or the NRA Foundation since 2015, asserts that while Dell’Aquila and his fellow donors were led to believe their money would be used to support programs such as gun-safety education and wildlife conservation, much of the cash was in fact diverted to “purposes unrelated to the NRA's core mission.”

The suit goes on to detail claims of the NRA’s mishandling of funds, which include spending nearly $100,000 per day for three months on legal expenses, holding a board meeting in Alaska rather than near the group’s Virginia headquarters, and “by making inflated payments to the NRA's advertising agency, Ackerman McQueen, without obtaining documentation justifying such expense.”

The claim does not specify exactly how the NRA is said to have mishandled money in conjunction with Ackerman McQueen, though one report alleges that the agency’s late CEO Angus McQueen, who died last month, hatched a plan to buy NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre a $5 million gated mansion near Dallas shortly after the 2018 Parkland, Fla., high-school shooting.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, LaPierre and his wife visited the property at least twice and cut Ackerman McQueen an initial $70,000 check from the NRA’s coffers for orchestrating the private real-estate deal, though the purchase was eventually axed and the check returned when McQueen expressed doubts that the property—adjacent to an exclusive country club—was truly desired for its security features.

The contemplative deal, which was organized and paid for through a separate corporate entity created by the NRA’s lawyers, is now under investigation by the New York attorney general’s office as part of a broader examination of the group’s tax-exempt status and potential misuse of funds.

The NRA and Ackerman McQueen were once said to have had one of the strongest relationships in the advertising world, though their 38-year partnership came crashing down in April when the NRA sued AM for defamation, to which the agency countersued before announcing it was severing its longstanding ties with the gun-rights group. The true details of their relationship breakdown, and the joint scheme to purchase LaPierre a mansion, are contested by both parties.

The NRA and Ackerman McQueen could not be reached for comment.

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