By Robert Maguire
August 27, 2019

A financial audit filed by the National Rifle Association and obtained by CREW shows that in 2018 the gun-rights organization spent millions more than it brought in, leading to a nearly $9 million decline in net assets at the end of the year. The new numbers mark the third straight year that the group has seen a multimillion-dollar drop in its net assets, according to available financial documents, and it comes at a time when the NRA is facing increased scrutiny of its finances by investigators and its own members. 

The NRA ended 2018 with $16 million in net assets—a fall from the nearly $25 million it had at the end of 2017, and down considerably from the $75.4 million the group held four years ago, at the end of 2015

The gun-rights group’s most recent dip into the red started in 2016, when it poured tens of millions of dollars into the 2016 elections—breaking its own records for political spending, boosting Republican congressional candidates and President Trump’s outsider campaign. In all, the group’s outlays spiked by more than $100 million in 2016 to more than $419 million, far outpacing the $378 million in revenues it brought in that year. 

The growth in spending was fueled in part by at least $54.4 million in reported political expenditures in the 2016 elections—the majority of which, nearly $35.2 million, was channeled through the NRA’s 501(c)4 social welfare arm, whose finances are the focus of the audit. Nearly two thirds of the NRA (c)4’s reported political spending in 2016 benefitted President Trump, but since such groups aren’t required to disclose their donors, the funders fueling the unprecedented NRA spending are still largely anonymous.

By the end of that year, the NRA had more than halved its financial assets, going from more than $75 million at the end of 2015 to $36.1 million at the end of 2016. Then, in 2017, member dues plummeted by more than $35 million, leading the group to run a deficit of more than $11.1 million, pushing its end-of-year assets down to just under $25 million. 

The new filing, which the NRA submitted to charity regulators in North Carolina, shows a spike in revenues from member dues in 2018 to more than $170 million, but even with that boost from NRA members, the group remained in the hole by nearly $9 million—pushing its net assets to $16 million, the lowest point since the end of 2012, when the group spent heavily trying to deny President Barack Obama a second term and ended the year with $11.2 million in net assets. 

This multi-year decline comes at a time when—in addition to being the target of multiple investigations into its finances—the NRA is embroiled in major internal turmoil, some of which stems from allegations of exorbitant spending on the part of the organization’s leadership. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre himself is at the center of renewed scrutiny over an alleged arrangement for the NRA to buy him a $6 million house, but the deal—which would have entailed the NRA having a 99 percent stake in the house—ultimately fell through. 

The group that was once a fundraising powerhouse now appears increasingly unable to raise enough money to fund its agenda—much less a mansion for the NRA chief executive or private jet rides for his family. 

Photo of Wayne LaPierre by Gage Skidmore.