The nation’s leading gun-rights organization saw its income drop by $55 million last year, after a record-breaking 2016 in which the group and its political affiliates spent unprecedented sums to elect President Donald Trump.
The National Rifle Association of America reported $98 million in contributions in 2017, down from nearly $125 million in 2016, according to new tax records obtained by The Daily Beast. Nearly one-fifth of its contributions last year came from a single anonymous donor, who chipped in nearly $19 million to the group.
More noteworthy than its drop in contributions, though, was its decline in membership dues. The NRA took in more than $128 million in dues last year—a significant sum, but down considerably from the $163 million it took in the year prior. That decline, more than the drop in direct contributions, appears to indicate a dwindling, if still formidable, base of public support. Asked for comment on the decline, an NRA spokesperson pointed to reporting showing that the organization’s magazine subscriptions have shot up this year, interpreted as an indicator of an accompanying membership surge.
Nonetheless, 2017 did not see a financial windfall for the group. In all, the NRA reported just under $312 million in total income, down from nearly $367 million the year before.
That loss in funding comes at a tricky political moment for the organization. Rarely has the NRA had so staunch an ally in the White House. But the group, which built significant political heft on the back of Obama-era threats to key gun-rights priorities, has also become a lightning rod in the still-raging debate over gun control and mass shootings in the U.S. And several recently elected House Democrats ran explicitly on pledges to go after the gun lobby when in office.
Under President Trump, the NRA has also adopted a more aggressive advocacy posture exceeding its traditional focus on gun-rights issues exclusively. It recently launched a stand-alone political commentary platform, NRA TV, that has veered into culture-war issues at best tangentially related to the Second Amendment.
But the NRA’s finances haven’t expanded with that larger mission. The group’s 2017 budget was still significant, at nearly $330 million, but that was down from $412 million in 2016. It reported spending nearly $18 million more than it took in in 2017, which was still a better financial picture than the year before, when it ended the year nearly $46 million in the red. On the whole, the 2017 finances indicate a reversion to the mean for the storied gun-rights group. After pulling out all the stops on Trump’s behalf, the NRA appeared to revert to financial activity more typical of a non-election year, with finances more closely resembling those of 2015 and prior political off-years.
That’s not to say it didn’t spend significantly in 2017. About $27 million of the NRA’s expenditures went to its political advocacy arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. But that was down considerably from 2016, when the NRA-ILA spent more than $76 million. The NRA did pass along large sums to another key political organization, donating $775,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, a coalition of states’ top law-enforcement officers, up from $110,000 in 2016.
The bulk of the NRA’s contributions to RAGA last year came just weeks after the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at a Las Vegas country-music concert. A month later, 24 of the 27 attorneys general who belonged to RAGA teamed up to push concealed-carry legislation, a top NRA priority. Both parties insisted the financial contributions were unrelated to the push.