The NRA is set to send a surprising message to Oliver North: It’s us or it’s NRATV—but not both.
A key committee of the powerful gun rights group’s board sent a letter to all 76 board members on May 31 saying it had reached an important decision regarding North, according to two people familiar with the letter who described it to The Daily Beast. Charles Cotton, the head of the NRA board’s audit committee, wrote in the letter that the committee rescinded its approval of North’s work with the advertising firm that runs NRATV. The letter also said North’s simultaneous membership of the NRA board and work for the ad firm running NRATV, Ackerman McQueen, presents him with an irreconcilable conflict of interest.
Just nine months earlier, that same panel had OK’d North’s arrangement, passing a resolution green-lighting his work for NRATV. But since then, things have changed. And, per Cotton’s new letter, the audit committee has formally rescinded that resolution. A spokesperson for the NRA declined to comment for this story.
The dispute between the NRA and the ad firm it’s worked with for over 30 years may look messy from the outside, and perhaps a bit incestuous. But it’s at the crux of an expensive fight that has driven one of the country’s most influential grassroots groups to court. And tens of millions of dollars may be at stake.
Ackerman McQueen manages, runs, and produces NRATV—a free internet streaming service that releases video clips of interest to NRA members and gun fans. Some of the content focuses on hunting and outdoorsmanship, including a recent interview where Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced expanded access to public lands for hunting and fishing. But the programming doesn’t shy away from red meat, such as a recent segment suggesting incredulously that a policy proposal from presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell would criminalize 15 million American gun owners.
For years, there was no daylight between the NRA, Ackerman McQueen, and NRATV—at least, none visible from the outside. Dana Loesch, arguably the most visible public defender of the NRA, doesn’t actually work for the gun rights group; rather, she’s an employee of the ad firm, which produces her NRATV show Relentless. And, according to internal documents leaked last month, the ad firm handled some travel and wardrobe expenditures for the gun group’s longtime CEO, Wayne LaPierre. It also came up with some of the group’s most memorable lines, including Charlton Heston’s famous “from my cold, dead hands” quip.
Then things went south. Tensions between the firm and the group first percolated quietly; the NRA is assiduously private, and the long-held suspicion its members and leaders hold toward the media means it generally keeps disputes in the family. But that’s no longer the case. In April, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen in Virginia state court. The suit alleged that the firm withheld information about its work for the group, including financial matters. Then, just days before the NRA’s huge annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, the group updated that lawsuit to allege that Oliver North—then its own president—had double-dipped by simultaneously taking an NRA salary, taking an Ackerman McQueen salary, and having a contract gig with Ackerman McQueen.
At the Indianapolis meeting, the internal dramas went public. LaPierre alleged in a letter to board members that North and Ackerman McQueen had conspired to foment a coup against him. LaPierre said North, through an intermediary, tried to blackmail him into leaving his post as CEO by threatening to release embarrassing information about him. Any alleged efforts failed, and LaPierre stayed on. North, meanwhile, lost his post as president of the NRA and left the meeting early.
About two weeks after the meeting, documents leaked including a letter from North alleging that the outside law firm Brewer Attorneys & Counselors had billed the NRA upwards of $24 million in a 12-month period. North called the fees “an existential threat to the financial stability of the NRA.” The NRA defended the law firm and disputed the accuracy of North’s claim.
That’s not all. After North’s letter leaked, the NRA sued the ad firm a second time, alleging the firm colluded in a coup attempt with North and leaked confidential information to damage the group. The suit demanded $40 million in damages. The next day, the ad firm filed a counterclaim against the NRA and demanded $50 million. The firm alleged that the NRA’s outside counsel—the same law firm North had lambasted—gave bad information to The New York Times as part of an effort to oust North. And it claimed the NRA only sued it in the first place as part of an effort to get around paying its bills.
And last week, the firm sent a letter to the gun group saying it had become impossible for it to fulfill its contract and moving to end the relationship between the two entities.
Through all of this, North has held onto his seat on the NRA’s board and his gig with Ackerman McQueen. The letter from the audit committee indicates that one of those two things may soon have to change. North can work for the NRATV or he can work with the NRA, it appears, but he can’t do both for long.