The National Rifle Association's lobbying machine is still potent despite financial woes that reduced its clout

Key Points
  • The National Rifle Association still has significant cash reserves to use on both lobbying efforts and on the campaign trail to influence the gun policy debate.
  • While a bankruptcy filing and internal turmoil have reduced the NRA's clout, it still has influence as former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other major GOP figures are set to speak at its annual convention Friday.
  • Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, a law firm that has represented the NRA for years and was paid over $23 million in 2020 for its services, told CNBC that it has no plans to stop representing the gun lobbying group.
Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 28, 2021.
Joe Skipper | Reuters

The National Rifle Association has a bevy of cash at its disposal to influence the gun policy debate after the latest shooting massacre of schoolchildren in Texas, despite financial stress and internal turmoil that have reduced the group's reach.

The NRA went ahead this week with its annual convention in Houston, days after a gunman shot 19 children and two adults dead less than a five-hour drive away in Uvalde. Reflecting the group's continued clout, former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other national GOP figures will go ahead with plans to speak at a forum hosted by the NRA's lobbying arm on Friday afternoon.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will not speak as planned, as he will return to Uvalde. Lt Gov. Dan Patrick also dropped out of speaking at the NRA meeting, saying he would not want his appearance to "bring any additional pain or grief" to families of the victims.

Gun safety advocates who have called for new restrictions in response to mass shootings this month in Texas and Buffalo, New York — including President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — have renewed their criticism of the NRA for opposing repeated efforts to tighten firearm regulations to attempt to curb carnage around the country. While the NRA's power has taken a hit in recent years, financial filings and lobbying disclosures show the group still has the means to try to influence gun policy talks in the coming weeks — along with the midterm elections that will decide which party controls Congress next year.

The NRA will likely wade into the policy discussion as senators restart gun control talks and key midterm races unfold around the country. Lawmakers are deliberating a wide range of gun measures. Proposals include a national "red flag" law, which could allow police or family members to petition a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person deemed dangerous, and measures that could strengthen gun background checks.

A spokeswoman for the NRA did not return a request for comment.

The NRA's 501(c)(4) organization, which by law can lobby, went into 2021 with nearly $50 million in net assets, according to records. In the first quarter of this year, nearly a dozen NRA representatives including the group's CEO, Wayne LaPierre, engaged with the federal government on gun-related bills. The NRA spent more than $620,000 on lobbying during the quarter.

The organization spent the most it ever has on lobbying in a single quarter last year, only a few months after it announced in January 2021 that it was filing for bankruptcy and planned to move its operations from New York to Texas. The NRA spent more than $2 million during the second quarter of 2021 lobbying Congress and the Biden administration on gun reform bills, a disclosure report shows.

The gun group's separate 501(c)(3) called the NRA Foundation, which cannot lobby but holds events on topics including gun safety and marksmanship, entered 2021 with more than $140 million in net assets, according to that group's 990 form. That organization's sponsorship program allows supporters to give money, and, if donors contribute $1,500 or more, they can receive a gun.

Gun-control advocates hold a vigil outside of the National Rifle Association (NRA) headquarters following the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 25, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

The NRA's political action committee had more than $15 million on hand going into May, according to a Federal Election Commission filing. The PAC gave nearly $70,000 last month to Republicans running for office in the 2022 midterms.

The NRA committee gave $4,000 to GOP candidates in Texas in April. Reps. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, and Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, each received $1,000 from the NRA's PAC. Texas congressional hopefuls Wesley Hunt and Morgan Luttrell also received the same amount.

Representatives for those candidates did not respond to questions about whether their campaigns will continue to accept money from the NRA.

As voters cast their ballots in primary elections across the country, senators started talks this week on which gun reforms could get through the chamber in a bipartisan vote.

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll taken the day after the Texas shooting shows broad support for some of the gun policy changes Congress has considered in the past. About three-fourths of respondents, or 73%, said they strongly support background checks on all gun sales, while another 15% said they somewhat support the proposal.

Over half, or 53%, of those polled said they strongly support banning assault-style weapons. Another 14% said they somewhat support banning those firearms.

The NRA has said it opposes expanding gun background check systems, and has often spoken out against measures like assault weapons bans.

The group has spread its messaging widely in recent days. The NRA's Facebook ads, which launched last week, are still active, according to the social media giant's ad library. One of the active NRA ads has a picture of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, with a message of "Don't let them take your guns."

It leads viewers to an online petition to Congress that reads, in part, "I demand that Congress vote down every bill, every treaty, every resolution, and every amendment that would infringe upon my Second Amendment rights in any way."

While the more than 5 million-member NRA has played a massive role in shaping the country's gun culture and policy for decades, the internal turmoil has left it weaker.

The NRA's bankruptcy announcement came after New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the organization, aiming to dissolve it entirely. Her office claimed that current and former executives, including LaPierre, used NRA funds for their own personal gain, leading to the group losing more than $64 million in three years.

In March 2021, a federal judge dismissed the NRA's bid to seek bankruptcy protection, allowing James' suit to go forward.

A judge ruled in March of this year that James' suit could not shut down the NRA entirely, but also allowed the litigation to continue.

The group will have the continued support of a key advisor that helped it weather its recent financial and legal troubles. Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, a law firm that has long represented the NRA, has no plans to stop doing business with the gun lobbying group, it told CNBC.

Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors is one of the firms that has represented the NRA in the legal fight with James' office. The NRA paid the firm a total of more than $40 million in 2019 and 2020, the most recent years for which 990 tax forms are publicly available.

The firm said in a statement that echoed the NRA's repeated suggestion that mental illness more than the availability of firearms leads to mass shootings, that it will "honor our commitments to the Association, its leadership, and millions of law-abiding members." The statement was sent in an email by the firm's spokesman, Travis Carter.

"This was an incomprehensible tragedy – the act of a deranged person. We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the victims, their families and this entire community. We also join others in the call to provide protection in our schools – to make them safe and secure," the statement read.

Sen. Chris Murphy pleads for something to be done about these shootings
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