Leaked 2022 NRA Financial Documents Show the NRA, in the Face of Declining Membership and Revenues and Expanding Legal Spending, Continues with Optimistic Budget Projections
In February 2023, The Reload published a leaked set of NRA financial documents from December 2022 and the organization’s January 2023 board meeting.1 These documents paint yet another dire picture of NRA finances marred by decreasing membership revenues and expanding legal fees. Despite these realities, the NRA has apparently failed to budget appropriately, missing its revenue projections by double digit percentages. The figures presented for the 2023 budget raise questions about whether that overly optimistic budgeting is continuing this year. Note that figures for 2022 discussed infra, unless otherwise indicated, are year-end projections by the NRA based on the first eleven months of the year.
Leaked Documents Indicate NRA Membership is at its Lowest since 2012, with a Drop in Revenue from NRA Members Driving a $24 Million Drop in Total Revenue in 2022
In 2022, the NRA brought in $24.2 million less in revenue than the year before, leading the organization to miss its revenue projections by 23 percent.2 The drop in revenue was largely driven by a $26.4 million, or 19 percent, drop in revenue from membership solicitations. That amount was 33 percent less than what the NRA had budgeted for the year.3 The decrease in revenue from membership solicitations included a 30 percent decrease in receipts from the organization’s Golden Eagles program,4 which the NRA describes as “an elite group of NRA members dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment.”5
The steep decrease in 2022 membership solicitation revenue is reflected in an overall drop in membership. The recently leaked documents, along with a previously leaked presentation to the NRA finance committee, indicate that the NRA had fewer members in 2022 than any year since 2012.6 In addition, the NRA had recruited 38 percent fewer new members and 17 percent fewer renewed members than it had planned for the year through November, indicating that the NRA had not anticipated the drop in membership revenues.7
It is worth noting that the decrease in revenues occurred during a year in which observers would have reasonably expected increased revenues. For one, 2022 was a federal election year, when the organization traditionally brings in more revenue due to the heightened political engagement of its members.8 Additionally, last year saw the debate and passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major federal gun safety law in nearly 26 years, which the NRA publicly opposed9 and sought to engage its members to oppose.10
This drop in membership solicitation revenue was not reflected in spending to solicit members: the NRA reported a 1.3 percent increase in spending on membership solicitations in 2022.11 In other words, the organization spent slightly more to solicit members, but still brought in less.
Meanwhile, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the organization’s political arm, brought in 39 percent less in revenue in 2022.12 This drop was particularly notable given that unlike the previous year, 2022 was a midterm election year when one would expect the NRA’s political arm to have brought in significantly more than the year before. With that said, the trend was in line with recent reporting that the NRA political action committee received 45 percent fewer itemized federal campaign contributions compared to 2018, the last year with a midterm election.13
NRA Spending Increased 15 Percent in 2022 as Spending by the Organization’s General Counsel Continues to Grow
Despite the fact that the NRA spent less than what was budgeted in 11 of the 15 categories of spending, it only came in 4 percent under its budgeted spending forecast overall for the year.14 That is largely due to the fact that the NRA’s Office of General Counsel spent $16 million, or 44 percent, more than its budget in 2022.15
The NRA still spent 15 percent more overall than it had in 2021.16 This included double digit percentage increases in spending in 10 of 15 categories,17 including more than a 25 percent increase by the General Counsel.18 In addition, the Treasurer’s office spent two and a half times as much in 2022 as it did in 2021.19 Spending by Wayne LaPierre’s office increased more than a third.20
NRA Spending on its Meager School Shield Program Fell Far Short of What it Promised and Was One-Fifth of What it Paid Private Jet Companies
Meanwhile, the documents indicate the NRA was projecting it would fall short of its promises on its already over-promised School Shield program. In June 2022, NBC News published a story revealing that the NRA had spent less than 1 percent of its revenue on its School Shield program since the program launched. In response to the story, a spokesman for the NRA claimed that the organization “anticipates giving approx. $500,000 in [School Shield] grants” in 2022.21 Nonetheless, the leaked financial documents project that the NRA spent just $275,000 on the program by the end of 2022.22 The documents also show that at the beginning of 2022, the NRA had only planned to spend $63,000 on the program.23 Snapshots of the program’s website homepage archived in July 201924 and May 2022 show no changes to the page. Archives reveal that between May 2525 and May 2726, 2022, immediately following the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the NRA made some small updates to its School Shield website, including removing the name of the program’s director and deleting a video entitled, “When People Cried, ‘Someone Do Something!’ We Did.” A few months later, on August 3, 2022, the NRA announced the 2022 application period for the School Shield program.27 To review:
- at the beginning of the year, NRA was budgeting just $63,000 for the School Shield program
- days after the Uvalde, Texas school shooting, the NRA made some small updates to the School Shield website
- weeks later, amid public scrutiny over the evident shortcomings of the program, the NRA said it anticipated distributing approximately $500,000 in School Shield grants in 2022
- At the end of the year, the NRA projected it would spend just over half that amount
While the NRA faced significant budget shortfalls, the organization apparently paid more than $1.2 million to two private jet charter companies in 2022,28 more than four and a half times what it projected to spend on the School Shield program. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s frequent private jet travel paid for by the organization has been a key part of the lawsuit the NRA continues to face from the New York Attorney General alleging improper insider transactions and financial mismanagement.29
With Decreasing Revenue and Expanding Expenditures, a $23.6 Million Loan Helped Cover the NRA’s 2022 Budget Deficit
The NRA financial documents breakdown the organization’s operating budget or pre-investment revenues and expenditures, i.e. its financial status before taking into account the performance of its investments and any lines of credit. The operating budget, in other words, is comprised of the categories of spending and revenue that most directly relate to the function of the organization. As a result of the increased spending and decreased revenue in 2022, the NRA operated with a $37 million deficit before its investments.30 The leaked financial documents indicate that the NRA took out a $23.6 million line of credit31 which helped cover the deficit in its budget.32
NRA’s Failed 2022 Budget Projections Raise Questions about its Apparently Optimistic 2023 Budgeting
Meanwhile, the NRA’s 2023 budget projects a deficit of $580,000 before its investments,33 which raises the question: has NRA budgeting gotten more realistic this year? If not and the NRA operating budget misses its 2023 target by almost $54 million as it did in 2022,34 then the NRA would end the year with close to a $55 million operating deficit.
And there are reasons to think that the NRA is being overly optimistic in its budgeting this year:
- Despite the fact that the predicted 2022 revenues from membership indicate a drop in the category for the third time in four years,35 the NRA is budgeting for a 20 percent increase in revenue from membership solicitations this year.36 This is in spite of the fact that it is planning to lose nearly 230,000 members37 and simultaneously cut spending on membership solicitations by 7 percent in 2023.38 This follows the pattern of overly optimistic budgeting in 2022, when the NRA predicted an increase in revenue from membership solicitations of 21 percent, but instead ended the year with a 19 percent decrease.39
- In a year when the NRA is facing a trial in the lawsuit brought against it by the New York Attorney General, the NRA is predicting a 36 percent decrease in spending by its Office of General Counsel. This comes after the office increased spending by 24 percent from 2021 to 2022, leading it to spend 44 percent more than what it had budgeted. The NRA had predicted a 14 percent drop in spending by the office between 2021 and 2022.40
- The NRA is predicting that in 2023, its investments will net $4.5 million in revenue, pushing it into the black for the year overall. However, the NRA’s portfolio lost $11.6 million in revenue in 2022 and made just $1.6 million in 2021.41
- Amid all of this, the NRA did not project using its new $23.6 million line of credit.42
The NRA’s optimistic budgeting in the face of a reality of declining membership and revenues led to a budget crunch in 2022 only alleviated by a new loan. Meanwhile, the organization spent even more on legal issues and paid private jet companies more than $1.2 million.
These circumstances raise the specter of a potential death spiral: as the NRA spends more on legal fees, it will likely have to make spending cuts in other areas. As it makes spending cuts to services, it’s likely that even more NRA members will leave the group, leading to further declines in revenue. And as revenue declines, the organization may have to make more spending cuts, repeating the cycle and deepening the downward spiral.