Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on New York Attorney General Letitia James's efforts to force the dissolution of the National Rifle Association (NRA). James' decision to disband the country's largest gun rights organization, clearly unjustified, is in line with its earlier politicization of the office. The case itself is important and raises serious questions about excessive spending by NRA officials. Wh Whilst there are other organizations that have not received this spending attention, the record of the NRA deserves scrutiny and possible injunctive relief. James, however, undermined the credibility of the case by calling for its resolution to face the Democratic electorate. It is all too familiar to all of us who have criticized James in the past for using the office for political greatness.
Here is the column:
It is best that Ambrose Burnside is not alive, as New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a complaint seeking, among other things, the dissolution of the National Rifle Association. For the unfortunate Burnside, it's one last outrage. Widely derided as the uninspired commander of the Union Army during the Civil War, Burnside has only two lasting legacies. First, his facial hair was so prominent that others would wear what would later be called sideburns. Second, was the first president of the NRA in the 19th century. Now James just wants to leave him with his whiskers.
Your complaint relates to wasteful spending by officials, particularly Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. The list includes hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on himself, his wife, family and friends. It ranges from small to gross, like gifts from Neiman Marcus, golf memberships, and private jets. When personalities like former President Oliver North decided to join the NRA's whistleblowers, they were evicted. According to reports, the NRA has spent an obscene $ 100 million on legal fees and costs alone.
If there is hope for Burnside's legacy, it comes from James. While she claims the NRA has been smeared with proprietary business by its leaders, the same complaint could be made against her files as attorney general. I previously criticized her for adding politics to her state office. She ran on a promise to prosecute Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign manager. James had not only used the persecution of an unpopular person to their own advantage, but he had also tried to invalidate the New York Office for the Protection of the Constitution against double exposure. The case was then dismissed.
James later referred to the NRA as a "terrorist organization," a claim common among internet trolls, but this was the chief New York City attorney who dealt with legal trolling. That makes the NRA complaint a tragic irony. If the measure is to take power to benefit yourself rather than your organization, the complaint is a self-blame. James' request to disband the NRA in order to reach out to voters undermines the case presented by their office. While breakup is simply absurd, James shows us that absurdity and popularity can often go hand in hand in New York City politics.
Many organizations have suffered dubious spending from civil servants, from political parties to nonprofits to universities. None was disbanded. Union and religious leaders are often accused of wasting money on travel or other professional perks. Few have been prosecuted. Al Sharpton's National Action Network paid him more than $ 1 million in compensation in 2018 and an additional $ 500,000 for rights to his life story. While it is based in New York, James made no attempt to disband it or any other organization.
Other cases where resolution is sought undermine the case against the NRA. Five years ago, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman attempted to liquidate the National Children's Leukemia Foundation after finding that 1 percent of approximately $ 10 million in donations went to cancer victims, including almost no money for the Make a Dream Come True ”. Its president turned out to be a felon who ran the organization out of his basement. An agreement was reached and the charity voluntarily closed.
The NRA no longer has a basement and spends money on its lobbying and training programs for firearms. It's one of the most successful interest groups in our history in every way. It has more than 5 million members and is the largest and most influential gun rights organization in the world. Regardless of what complaints may be made about the spending habits of its officials, the NRA is undoubtedly a successful company. Indeed, many lawmakers in Washington have denounced its influence, as low NRAs can mean defeat for politicians facing close races.
James does not ignore the aftermath of a Democratic official seeking to destroy one of the most powerful conservative groups in the country in an election year. In contrast, she seems to enjoy this picture. She knows that liberals are excited about the idea of breaking up the NRA. She is now revered as a heroine by those who see no problem in their past in declaring the group as a terrorist organization and are now trying to disband the group as a fraudulent organization. It has been a political campaign for years looking for legitimate reasons, but the claim is not as important as the goal.
The same political supporters would, of course, be justifiably outraged by the government's clear-cut approach to disbanding liberal organizations like Planned Parenthood. Misconduct or crimes by its officials would not leave it as a criminal enterprise. Planned parenting, like the NRA, is one of the most effective groups in defending a constitutional right.
Attempting to disband a political speech organization should not be done without overwhelming evidence that it is a criminal enterprise, which is why a group like the NRA has never done so. James may point to the voluntary breakup of the Donald Trump Foundation, a small and mostly inactive nonprofit organization, or the breakup of Ku Klux Klan groups in the 1940s, but in these cases there is little comparison with the NRA.
Many liberals who celebrated the lawsuit against the NRA condemned Trump for trying to explain the radical movement against a terrorist organization. They were just as right then as they are wrong now. I recently testified that the Senate should reject such a designation for Antifa. While I have been a vocal critic of Antifa and its tactics, it is a dangerous force for the government to openly crack down on organizations involved in political speech.
Burnside will always have facial hair as its enduring legacy. James turns hers into something much more threatening. It's not that she'll be able to meet such crude political demands that are at stake. The fact is that so many want her to be able to break up a real advocacy group in this country.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.