By Ben Langlotz | May 29, 2019 | Firearms | 0 Comments
But… fair or not, it’s time for Wayne to go. The NRA is far too important to our nation, to our rights, and to our industry to risk its well-being and very existence simply for the sake of ensuring fair treatment of one of its employees. If by the time you read this Wayne LaPierre has resigned his position, I’ll salute him for doing right by the organization he has served for three decades – and I’ll let go of all the concerns I’ll share below.
Last month I wrote constructively about a simple structural change that would help the NRA avoid financial disaster, public embarrassment, and general ineffectiveness by forming a Board of just nine powerful and experienced Directors, instead of a gaggle of 76 with limited experience at corporate governance and demonstrated ineffectuality.
This month, I’m going to be honest about what I see that disgusts me about the NRA’s leadership, and in the process, I’m going to break some news from my own research. Unless you’ve been following my Facebook or Twitter @GunPatent feeds, this’ll be the first you’ve heard it.
How a Leak Ruined a Fine Italian Suit
Poor Wayne. No one complained that he earns over a million dollars a year leading the NRA ($5M according to Wikipedia). No one paid attention to whether or not he flies in private jets to NRA events – I don’t know but I assume so. Questionable but tolerable. I try to fly first class to industry events and amortizing a $1000 ticket over a hundred meetings at the SHOT Show or NRA Annual Meeting makes it a good investment in reduced stress when every bit of positive energy helps. If Dallas-area attendees ever want to link up to share a private jet I’m happy to make arrangements.
Pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered. Leaked documents show that Wayne received hundreds of thousands of dollars in private overseas jet travel, including the Bahamas and Italy (where I understand there was a brief appearance in an NRA video). A $4000/month apartment for a stunningly blonde “summer intern.” But what got me was the clothing. The Wall Street Journal reported:
“Wayne LaPierre billed the group’s ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique, $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe, and had the agency cover $13,800 in rent for a summer intern, according to newly revealed NRA internal documents.”
I got curious about the clothing and learned both to my pride and my horror that Wayne and I wear the same brand of suits, the unpronounceable Ermenegildo Zegna (“ZAY-nyah”). The only difference is that I paid for mine (actually, it was an extravagant Christmas gift from Karmen) for about the cost of a fine custom 1911 from a top maker. You’ll see me in it essentially every day of SHOT, NRA, and NASGW for the next ten years (and probably for ten more years with patched elbows!) I can afford to change my shirt and tie every day, but not the suit.
So, I was irritated to think that all the regular “end users” that populate the aisles of the NRA show, and who buy the products that keep our industry alive, are paying for the million-dollar exec’s luxury clothing. Buy your own clothes, dude! I don’t care if you have to look good on TV – Buy your own damn clothes from your own salary!
As an aside, I did rather well in my taxation classes in law school and recall vividly that under no circumstances is clothing considered a deductible business expense (safety gear and otherwise unusable uniforms aside). Which makes me idly wonder if Wayne’s accountants are scurrying to file amended returns including the value of as taxable income as I presume one must – my “Zegna” was paid for with after-tax savings just like all your own clothes.
But it gets worse, much worse.
Were NRA Dues Helping Hillary?
The accountants, lawyers, and Attorneys General can sort out all the relationships and dealings between the NRA, its Board, Wayne, and “Ack-Mack,” the PR/Ad agency the NRA has paid tens of millions to. (As I understand, Ack-Mack is the one paying to fill Wayne’s closets with the finest menswear and jet him around the globe). I’m not going to try to untangle that mess – the professionals need to resolve it. And, I don’t trust a Board of great gun activists and enthusiasts to know even where to begin on a complex legal and financial issue. I’m not competent on that and would be suspicious of anyone who says they were unless they did it for a living.
But yesterday, I saw a social media post that got me to thinking. It was a local profile of a successful Dallas attorney, focusing on his office décor. His law firm is the one hired by the NRA to work out a complex dispute with the insurance company involved in the Carry Guard insurance the NRA was marketing to members. I had seen media reports that part of the NRA’s financial concerns was that the NRA had paid this firm $24,000,000 in legal fees in the last year or so.
I tell my clients looking at litigation not to weigh the hundreds of thousands or even millions it’ll cost to litigate, but instead to ask what will be the typical monthly legal bill, and how many months (or years) of those, say, $50,000 monthly legal bills they should expect. So, the NRA was cutting million-dollar-plus checks each month for more than a year, with money collected $35 a pop from each member.
But I can’t tell you whether that was necessary and maybe a smart call. It may well be the right price for the right service (I have the same non-opinion on a million-dollar salary for a non-profit CEO). But as a lawyer who works hard to land the best clients, I had to admire the law firm’s success, and wonder how they landed such a plum client and case.
First, let me say that I found nothing to criticize in the law firm that the NRA hired, as I have no information about the case or their handling of it. I was simply interested in how they landed the big client.
It turns out that blood is thicker than water. Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors was founded by William A. Brewer III in 1984 and has just 15 attorneys listed on their website. Doing the math, a $1.5 million monthly bill averages out to $100,000 per attorney, but of course we know that’s not how things work.
Then I learned from a cranky NRA member on Facebook why this small firm might have had an inside track to land the NRA’s plum case: Brewer’s father-in-law is CEO of Ack-Mack, the NRA’s high-dollar PR agency! Again, I don’t fault the law firm for taking advantage of family ties, and they might well be the best choice for the case whose issues I haven’t even looked into and don’t yet have an opinion on.
But, I’m more worried if the NRA is making BIG decisions in the right way for the right reasons. Did Wayne himself make the call to steer the eight-figure plum case to the kin of the company that jets him around the world and fills his closet with the finest suits? Or did the Board make this call, fully informed of all the relationships and possible personal interests? I hope the latter – maybe one of the 76 Directors can let me know. Were other firms considered or was it just a remarkable coincidence that the best law firm in the nation to handle the matter was so closely related to the PR firm that received $40,000,000 from the NRA in 2017? It may be that the law firm is handling more than the legal dispute – they tout PR capabilities so maybe are handling some of Ack-Mack’s duties – I’m only speculating and have no idea.
Sidebar: When the NRA gets its act together again can we please have it stop with the embarrassing and exploitative marketing tactics? I have to assume that Carry Guard is a terrible insurance choice that exploits the fears of ignorant consumers, and that no sensible business person would opt for. Same for the cozy relationship between the gold -hawkers on the NRA Magazine cover and taking up precious display space at the NRA Annual meeting exhibition hall – no investment advisor would dream of suggesting investing in rare gold coins. Precious metals may have a place in a portfolio, but those guys in gold jackets make my skin crawl when I think of how naïve customers think they are making a good “investment.” We’ll leave aside the commemorative collectibles and the full-page ads – no gun collector I know has ever ‘invested” in one of those. For the future, there must be a way for a non-profit civil rights organization to fund its mission without the unseemly marketing efforts.
So – What about Hillary?
Well, when I learned about the lucky little law firm that was anointed with the plum NRA case, I got to wondering: are they really with us? Is this pile of NRA member money really going to someone on our side? Thanks to public records, I could find out if Mr. Brewer and any of his partners were big political donors.
I was not disappointed.
Mr. Brewer has made about $200,000 in political donations, almost entirely to Democrats, and to Democrat party organizations. Including last year to Beto O’Rourke in his race against stalwart Second Amendment supporter Ted Cruz (my Senator). And maximum donations (over $10k) to Hillary in 2008 and before, and even to Al Franken. When he occasionally (rarely) donates to Republicans its often to the ones popular with Democrats, like Californian Tom Campbell. Mr. Brewer’s wife’s donation lacks the occasional RINO donation and includes max Obama donations. Brewer’s top partner is also a loyal democrat donor, and none of the other partners are active political donors.
And that’s all fine, legal, ethical, and no cause for me to complain – at least about that law firm and its lawyers.
But I’d like to know the decision process that leads to NRA to put tens of millions of dollars into the pockets of donors to the very campaigns the NRA magazine is warning readers about (and soliciting donations to fight!) While I can’t question the capabilities of the firm they hired presumably due to a connection with the PR firm, I can confidently suggest that there are hundreds of law firms in the nation that would have been capable of handling the case, and even if they weren’t all ardent Second Amendment supporters like yours truly, at least they wouldn’t be giving aid and comfort to the enemies of our most precious liberties.
What you can do
I believe industry leaders can have a powerful voice. GOP leaders went to Nixon to tell him he had to resign, and spared the nation an impeachment disaster. Would the NRA’s top advertisers and exhibitors have a similar influence? I won’t ask you what to do except for this: simply talk to your peers about this important issue.