The letter came in early March and the message was dire.
The National Rifle Association could shut down “very soon,” according the four-page fundraising letter, signed by the group’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre.
He blamed the dire straits on steps Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken to pressure banks and insurance companies that do business with the gun rights organization.
“[R]ight now we’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the NRA, but in the entire history of our country,” the letter began. “And if this attack succeeds, NRA will be forced to shut down forever.”
The threat, LaPierre said, is imminent.
“And let me be clear,” he wrote. “Cuomo’s tactics are already working. One by one, more and more banks and insurance companies across the country are knuckling under to Cuomo’s threat—and telling NRA they won’t do business with us—because they don’t want to be targeted and crushed by Cuomo’s strong-arm tactics and the vast power of thousands of New York bureaucrats.
The letter’s dramatic language and liberal use of underlines puts it in the long, storied tradition of panic-stricken direct-mail fundraising letters. Politicians and organizations looking to raise cash have long made hyperbolic claims about impending catastrophe to scare potential donors into forking over a few bucks. Last April, for instance, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising email in Nancy Pelosi’s name saying Trump was “inches away from firing Mueller,” as The Washington Examiner reported.
William Brewer, a lawyer representing the NRA, issued a statement on Cuomo that, in comparison, was restrained.
“The attack on the NRA is unprecedented,” he said. “This call to action is real. If left unchecked, the actions of Gov. Cuomo would damage the NRA’s ability to access certain financial and insurance services—hurting its financial position and impacting its ability to advocate for members. The NRA is a vibrant organization that is growing and in sound financial condition—but it must be positioned to defend itself, like any advocacy group facing an attack on its constitutional freedoms.”
The letter does not say the organization faces financial shortfalls; rather, it claims that losing access to banking services could force it to shutter. But in court filings in its litigation against Cuomo, the group claims to have “suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages” because of the governor’s moves, as The New York Times detailed. Cuomo isn’t the group’s only apparent source of financial woe; its most recent available financial filings show annual donations to the group shrank by $55 million from 2016 to 2017. When its allies—like President Donald Trump—are in power, donations to the group tend to fall off as its members worry less about the future of the Second Amendment. On top of that, congressional investigations into NRA board members’ interactions with Kremlin power-brokers have amped up the political pressure on the organization.
“I’m counting on your financial support to keep us in operation while we fight in the courts to prevent a total NRA shutdown,” LaPierre concluded..
Last April, Cuomo called the NRA “an extremist organization” in a tweet and said companies with “any ties” to the organization should “consider their reputations” —a statement the NRA viewed as a thinly veiled threat. Then the chief of the state’s Department of Financial Services sent a letter to banks implying they could face negative repercussions if they kept working with the group, as Reuters detailed. LaPierre’s letter claimed, “more and more banks and insurance companies across the country” have declined to work with the group because of Cuomo’s moves. As a result, the NRA sued Cuomo’s government in federal court, claiming his decision to target companies for working with the group because of its political advocacy violated its First Amendment rights. And the ACLU sided with the NRA, filing an amicus brief arguing that Cuomo’s moves set a dangerous precedent. If Cuomo can target businesses because they work with a pro-Second Amendment group, they argue, then why would stop a Republican governor from targeting businesses who work with Planned Parenthood? In November, a federal judge in New York let the NRA’s lawsuit move forward on First Amendment grounds, as the New York Law Journal detailed.
Despite the win, LaPierre’s letter depicts an emergency situation.
“[Ve]ry soon, unless we can force Cuomo to break off this attack, NRA will have no choice but to cease operations after 147 years of fighting for freedom.”
He then compared Cuomo’s moves with steps taken by the governments of China, Cuba, and North Korea to quell dissent.
“You and I have seen how the power of government has been used in China and Cuba and North Korea to stamp out opposing views and silence political opponents,” he wrote. “But never in my life did I think we’d see these tactics brazenly and openly deployed by government officials, right here in the United States, to destroy people and organizations they disagree with.”
LaPierre then asked for “an emergency contribution.”
“The Second Amendment cannot cannot survive without the NRA, and the NRA cannot survive without your help right now.”
Above the field where donors can fill in their credit card information is emblazoned the sentence “STOP THE NRA SHUTDOWN!”