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Washington Post: NRA paid thousands to board members for services

Updated 10:19 AM ET, Mon June 10, 2019

Washington (CNN) - More than a dozen members of the National Rifle Association's board have received money from the gun rights organization in the last three years, payments tax experts say could cause conflicts of interest, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Eighteen members of the NRA's 76-member board received payments from the organization for various services they performed for the group, the Post reported, citing tax filings, charitable reports and correspondence from the NRA obtained by the paper.

The Post's report comes as the NRA faces several investigations, including one into its finances by New York's attorney general and a congressional probe into the group's potential ties to Russia as well as its finances.

It also comes on the heels of internal disputes at the NRA that culminated with the departure of Oliver North, the group's former president, who earlier this year accused longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre of financial misconduct, including the improper use of NRA funds.

Among those the Post said were paid by the group was a company owned by NRA director and classic rocker Ted Nugent, who the paper said received $50,000 "for appearances at the 2016 NRA convention."

The Post also said Dave Butz, a former professional football player and NRA board member, was paid $400,000 by the NRA for "public outreach and firearms training."

Nugent and Butz did not respond to CNN's requests for comment on Monday, and the Post said they did not provide the Post with a comment.

The group also paid a firm run by Mercedes Schlapp, the White House's director of strategic communications who resigned from the NRA's board when she joined the administration, according to the Post. The NRA, which told the Post that Schlapp's "ability to represent the organization in Spanish-language media 'made her firm highly qualified,'" paid her $85,000 in 2016 and 2017 for "media strategy consulting," the paper said.

CNN The White House did not respond to CNN's request for comment on Monday.

The NRA also did not respond to CNN's request for comment on Monday, but the Post said the group said in a statement that "its finances are healthy and that the allegations of misspending are unfounded." Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA's spokesperson, told the paper that because some companies have been pressured not to do business with the group, the pool of potential companies the NRA can do business with "becomes smaller." Arulanandam described the number of financial ties between board members and the NRA as being "small," according to the Post, and said "connections between employees or board members and partners are not unusual."

Another NRA board member, Owen Mills, who runs a firearms training facility in Arizona, according to the Post, defended the roughly $11,000 he reportedly received from the group in 2016 and 2017, telling the paper that "There's nothing nefarious about it."

"The NRA buys a lot of stuff. And so it wouldn't be unusual to do business with your board members, and all of that is open to the public process," Mills said, according to the Post.

Mills did not respond to CNN's request for comment on Monday.

Some tax experts said the transactions were unusual given the organization's tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization, and that the connections could create conflicts of interest, the Post said.

Douglas Varley, an attorney who specializes in tax-exempt organizations told the paper that in his 25 years in the field, he's "never seen a pattern like this."

The attorney noted that he did not see any "apparent violations of the law," according to the Post, but said that "The volume of transactions with insiders and affiliates of insiders is really astonishing."

Daniel Kurtz, another tax attorney who specializes in nonprofits, told the paper that usually, "Most groups lean on board members to give money, not for board members to get money."

"I think the contributing public would look at that with a dim eye," Kurtz told the Post.

Neither Varley nor Kurtz responded to CNN's requests for comment on Monday.


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