New York's attorney general has filed a lawsuit seeking to disband the National Rifle Association [NRA] after claiming an 18-month investigation revealed "greed, abuse and brazen illegality" among some executives.
Letitia James claimed that mismanagement by the pro-gun organisation's leadership contributed to a loss of more than $64 million over three years as she announced the move at a press conference on Thursday.
She singled out four current or former executives including Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's chief executive and the public face of the body, while detailing allegations of "corruption" at the top of the group, founded in 1871.
Among the claims was that Mr LaPierre spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in NRA funds on private plane trips for himself and his family, including eight trips to the Bahamas.
There were also allegations of expenses being signed off in bulk without proper approval and NRA money being spent on “lavish trips”, expensive dinners, travel agents and private security
Ms James said the NRA’s funds, which given its charitable status should be used to benefit its 5 million members, had instead been turned into a “personal piggy bank” by some executives.
She claimed the NRA had been failing to carry out its charitable mission and instead had been “operating as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality”.
“For these years of fraud and misconduct we are seeking an order to dissolve the NRA in its entirety,” Ms James said.
She later said: “Today we send a strong and loud message that no one is above the law, not even the NRA, one of the most powerful organisations in this country”.
Ms James was able to make the move because the NRA is registered as a charity in New York state. It remains to be seen whether her push will be successful.
The NRA will firmly oppose the attempts to force it to disband, potentially setting up years of legal wrangling. Theoretically it could also headquarter in another state to ensure its survival.
The NRA is the most well-known pro-gun lobbying group in America and has been a major supporter of Donald Trump, the US president, during his presidency.
Mr Trump has been accusing Joe Biden, his Democratic presidential rival, of opposing the right to bear arms and could jump on the development to warn of a looming threat to gun owners.
Liberals view the NRA as a major roadblock in attempts to pass tighter laws on gun ownership in America, given the group has spent vast amounts on political activities, giving it sway in Washington.
Ms James dismissed suggestions that she had acted now either because of the approaching presidential election, which is on November 3, or because of her own past support for tighter gun laws.
Ms James’s lawsuit singles out four current or former NRA executives: Mr LaPierre, Wilson Phillips, the former treasurer, Joshua Powell, the former chief of staff, and John Frazer, the executive director of general operations.
Ms James is pushing to have Mr LaPierre and Mr Frazer, who are both still at the NRA, removed from their posts and to ban all four men from serving on the boards of any charities based in New York in the future.
The lawsuit claims the four men “instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent”, according to a statement released by the New York attorney general’s office.
The lawsuit is a civil case. It is unclear if Ms James will make recommendations for criminal charges at a later date. She left the door open at her press conference but was non-committal.
A statement in response posted on the NRA’s Twitter feed said the organisation will “confront” and “prevail” against the lawsuit.
“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organisation and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” part of the statement read.
“You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle.
“It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda. This has been a power grab by a political opportunist – a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta.”