NRA spends second straight year in the red with $18 million deficit

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NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre (AP Photo/Steve Ueckert)

One of the nation’s most powerful political forces appears to be in the midst of a steep financial decline.

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) experienced a $55 million decline in income last year, finding itself in the red for a second consecutive year, according to a new tax return reviewed by the Center for Responsive Politics and first obtained by the Daily Beast.

In 2017, the organization spent nearly $18 million more than it took in. While it’s better than the $46 million deficit the NRA reported in 2016, it is significantly worse than the group’s $27.8 million income in 2015.

The document confirms a precipitous drop in NRA membership dues reported by CRP in September. Member dues dropped by roughly $36 million between 2016 and 2017.

The group’s contributions declined as well, from $124 million to $98 million. The NRA received $18.8 million from a single anonymous donor after accepting a similarly-sized $19.2 million contribution in 2016. Six additional unidentified donors gave more than $1 million each.

The document reveals an unprecedented spending drop by the NRA’s 501(c)(4) arm since CRP started tracking the group’s Form 990 tax returns in 2011. With less revenue coming in, the organization slimmed down its budget from $412 million in 2016 to $330 million last year.

While it’s normal for the spending of a politically active group like the NRA to rise during election years and fall in off-years, financial experts say the NRA’s business model will not be sustainable in the long term.

The group’s political spending this cycle signals that its finances aren’t nearly as robust as in previous cycles. The NRA’s PAC spent $9.2 million on the midterms, far below the $54.3 million spent in 2016 and $27 million spent in 2014.

Thanks to the NRA’s significant drop-off in political spending, 2018 was the first election cycle in history where gun control groups outspent gun rights groups, by a margin of more than $2 million.

Instead of relying on traditional outside spending, the group launched its own right-wing media network, NRA TV, which delves into some issues not related to guns.

The NRA’s political spending ballooned in 2016. The organization spent a record $54.4 million to help catapult President Donald Trump into the White House and protect Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.

The bulk of that spending — $35.2 million — came from the organization’s 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm, which doesn’t disclose its donors.

This push in 2016 led to a $100 million spike in the NRA’s outlays between 2015 and 2016. That spending was not matched in revenue gains, leaving the gun rights group with a $14.4 million deficit.

Last year, the NRA gave $775,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which is significantly more than the $110,675 the organization gave in 2016. It also gave $155,400 to the Republican Governors Association and $60,389 to the Republican State Leadership Committee.

As in prior years, the NRA gave $15,000 to the National Foundation for Women Legislation for a scholarship program.

The NRA paid out more than $100,000 to 121 independent contractors in 2017. Its biggest recipient was InfoCision Management Corporation, an Ohio-based call center operator, at more than $24.2 million.

InfoCision has faced criticism for misleading potential donors about the percentage it skims off of money raised through its fundraising efforts. It retained more than half of the $10 million it raised for the NRA in 2017, paying the gun rights organization $4.7 million and keeping $5.3 million for itself.

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