The legal battles in and around the NRA got a little messier this weekend.
The NRA’s ex-advertising agency is suing Grant Stinchfield, a former host at NRATV, the controversial video channel it used to operate, over comments he made regarding his work there. The firm claims Stinchfield sided with the NRA against it and lied about communications regarding its viewership. The ex-host claimed last week that the ad firm was trying to use NRA money to turn itself into a live TV newsroom. That might seem innocuous, but the ad firm alleges that the comments were part of an effort to distract the public from grave challenges facing the gun rights group.
The NRA and Ackerman McQueen—the ad firm that managed the now-defunct NRATV’s programming—have been engaged in a protracted wrestling match for months now. The entities have sued and counter-sued each other for millions of dollars. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the group’s finances. Ackerman McQueen argued that Stinchfield’s comments were part of an effort to shift the public focus from the NRA’s troubles to the financial decisions of its ex-firm. The statement, per the firm’s lawsuit, was intended to distract from “New York State Attorney General’s civil investigation and potential criminal charges against the NRA and [NRA CEO Wayne] LaPierre.” A spokesperson for the ad firm declined to comment on what criminal exposure the NRA and LaPierre may have, if any.
Stinchfield said the lawsuit saddened him.
“The fact that Ackerman is even responding to my affidavit with a lawsuit against me is more proof of why I am so sad for the company I was once happy to work for,” he said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Though I am not employed by the NRA, I am a longtime member and I am proud to speak the truth on its behalf.”
Stinchfield has previously said that the creators of NRATV did not give the NRA sufficient visibility into the success of the programing. The also claimed they tried to wall off NRATV employees from the actual leadership of the NRA. Ackerman McQueen says the claims are defamatory.
William Brewer, outside counsel for the NRA, said it should not come as a surprise that Ackerman McQueen criticized Stinchfield.
“Mr. Stinchfield is a former Ackerman McQueen employee and was one of the most recognized personalities of NRATV,” Brewer said in a statement. “His affidavit is troubling for Ackerman, as it validates many of the NRA’s claims and allegations against the agency. The NRA believes this filing underscores what, in the end, was driving Ackerman’s management of NRATV—its own financial self-interest and desire to build a live TV platform on the backs of NRA members.”
“Mr. Stinchfield appropriately notes that many of Ackerman’s attacks on the NRA are baseless—a failing effort to disparage its most significant former client and deflect blame from the agency’s actions,” he added.
The suit also zeroes in on two controversial NRA programs: Carry Guard, which provided insurance to gun owners to cover legal costs if they ever killed someone in self-defense; and School Shield, which aimed to help schools better protect themselves from mass shooters. Stinchfield claimed that Ackerman McQueen initially supported the programs, and then began disparaging them. The ad firm’s lawsuit, meanwhile, argues that the group supported a portion of the Carry Guard program that trained gun owners but steered clear of the actual provision of insurance. One top NRA official said Carry Guard was “nothing but an “insurance scheme,’” the lawsuit said. “AMC [Ackerman McQueen] wanted nothing to do with a ‘scheme.’”
As for School Shield, the lawsuit alleged the NRA LaPierre didn’t initially take that work seriously.
“The NRA and LaPierre, for a time, showed no intention to execute the program’s mission,” the lawsuit says. “Although the NRA raised millions of dollars through the program, School Shield had issued a paltry five grants as of the end of 2014. The NRA was ignoring School Shield’s mission, causing AMc to express reservations about promoting something that the NRA was failing to deliver as promised.”
The suit also said that when Oliver North became president of the NRA, he pushed the gun group to focus on that work. Additional grants have been issued since 2014. LaPierre and his allies pushed North out of the NRA earlier this year, arguing he was involved in a hostile take-over attempt.
Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s managing director of public affairs, called the criticisms of School Shield a distraction tactic.
“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Ackerman’s response to the agency’s legal issues is to attack a service program supported by many members of law enforcement and school officials across the country,” he said. “We take great pride in NRA SCHOOL SHIELD—and thank our many loyal members who join us in the effort to keep our children safe.”
In addition, the lawsuit claimed that viewer interest in NRATV went up after mass shootings, including the attack that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“The analytics presented to NRA showed that NRATV, including Defendant’s program, became a go-to source for information after the Parkland school shooting, when an armed school resource officer stopped a school shooting in Maryland, and after other similar events of national importance,” the lawsuit said.
The Trump administration has brought the NRA unprecedented access and unparalleled challenges. Trump frequently touts the organization, which spent heavily to help him in 2016. And while the president sometimes telegraphs an appetite for tightening gun laws, he has yet to publicly break with the gun group in any meaningful way.
The group’s plethora of legal fights, meanwhile, has proven costly. It remains to be seen whether those expenditures will limit the cash it has available in 2020.
The NRA’s bottom line has traditionally been bolstered by its tax-exempt status—a position that could be at risk, the lawsuit notes. The New York investigation could “place LaPierre’s livelihood and the NRA’s nonprofit tax-exempt status in jeopardy,” the suit claims. The NRA’s lawyer, meanwhile, said the group “strives to comply with all applicable regulations.”