- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2019

The National Rifle Association named Carolyn D. Meadows as its president Monday and circled the wagons around embattled Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre amid unprecedented turmoil at the gun rights organization.

Ms. Meadows replaces Oliver North, who was pushed out over the weekend amid a struggle with Mr. LaPierre stemming from the NRA’s financial position.

The NRA’s board also voted to renew Mr. LaPierre as executive vice president and CEO, sidelining calls from some members to oust him.

Keeping Mr. LaPierre in place is a vote of confidence that the NRA can pull out of its financial troubles. The organization bled cash in the run-up to the 2016 elections.

Numbers released this weekend showed that the NRA and several of its affiliates ran another $11 million deficit last year.

“We’ve been less than accountable at the NRA — not as unaccountable as the government or the media, but we’re better than that,” legendary rocker Ted Nugent, an NRA board member, told The Washington Times on the sidelines of the group’s annual meetings in Indianapolis over the weekend. “I’m just a guitar player, but see if I have this right: When I make $5 million on tour, I can’t spend 6.”

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump: New York attempting to ‘destroy’ NRA

Board members spent hours behind closed doors Monday talking about next steps for the group, and Ms. Meadows’ election was the most visible outcome.

She was elected to the NRA board in 2003 and was elected as second vice president in 2017.

She takes over for Mr. North, who was named president last May to much fanfare. He delivered a fiery speech to an adoring audience Friday and then had a proxy read what amounted to his resignation letter Saturday.

The discord drew attention from President Trump, who on Monday urged the “under siege” group to unify.

The president also blasted New York officials for trying to “take down and destroy” the NRA after New York Attorney General Letitia James launched an investigation into its finances.

“It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS - FAST!” Mr. Trump, who appeared at the NRA’s annual meetings last week, said in a Twitter message.

SEE ALSO: Ted Nugent: NRA has been ‘less than accountable’

Ms. James’ office said in response to Mr. Trump that she is focused on enforcing the rule of law and would follow the facts wherever they may lead.

“We wish the president would share our respect for the law,” her office said.

In his resignation statement, Mr. North said members expressed concerns to him late last year about the amount of money the NRA was paying to the Brewer law firm, which is representing the group in an ongoing lawsuit against New York.

Other NRA members have defended those legal fees, saying the future of the organization could hinge on a successful outcome in the case.

Joel Friedman, a board member from Nevada, said the firm has more than 17 lawyers working the case but added that the spending is in line with where the NRA needs to be.

“Everybody wants to go, ‘Well, it’s because you’re paying all this money to the law firm,’” he said before noting that the NRA had made significant spending cuts several times the size of the lawyers’ fees to Brewer.

The legal fees “might be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 15 or 18% of all the money we cut,” he said.

Cutbacks were made in some areas from 2017 to 2018, including a decline of close to $10 million in expenses on safety, education and training programs, according to the latest figures.

But the group has other ground to make up financially.

According to newly published documents, the NRA and a handful of its affiliates, including its Political Victory Fund and the NRA Foundation, came close to breaking even in 2017, reporting $378.1 million in revenue and $379.2 million in total expenses.

But they ran a larger deficit last year, bringing in about $412 million in revenue but spending $423 million.

“My criminal government is 20-some trillion in debt. Criminal. I won’t let that happen to the NRA,” Mr. Nugent said. “We may be a little out of control currently, but I think it’s remedial. I think we can find those wasteful spendings, and I think we can end them.”

A person familiar with the inner workings of the group said the NRA was on track with where it expected to be financially for the first quarter of 2019.

“People have been directed to save money everywhere possible,” the person said. “There’s a hiring freeze that unless a position is mission-essential, people are not being hired. And there’s been thorough analysis of spending and belt-tightening, with no layoffs of the most dedicated people in the building.”

Still, the NRA this month also sued Ackerman McQueen, its longtime advertising firm, saying it was slow to produce financial documents it needed to meet legal obligations.

The NRA was paying Ackerman and its affiliates around $40 million annually by 2017, according to the lawsuit, which the firm dismissed as frivolous and inaccurate.

Part of the issue, Mr. LaPierre said, was that Mr. North was being paid “millions” by the firm annually and members wanted to know what the NRA was getting out of the relationship.

Mr. LaPierre said last week that Mr. North and the firm were trying to extort him by threatening to release damaging information unless he agreed to step aside.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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