NRA Membership Dues, Contributions Rebounded In 2018

Annual report provides insight into gun-rights group’s funding and spending

Getty Images

The National Rifle Association of America and its associated groups saw a sizable increase of both membership dues and contributions in 2018, according to the group's annual report.

The report, which was handed out during the group's latest annual meeting, shows dues went from $128,209,303 in 2017 to $170,391,374 in 2018—an increase of $42,182,071, or 33 percent. It also shows contributions rose from $132,879,299 in 2017 to $165,075,288 in 2018—an increase of $32,195,989 or 24 percent. The rise in dues came ahead of the NRA announcing it had reached 5.5 million members, a record number.

Overall, the NRA and its affiliates brought in $412,233,508 in 2018. That's up from $378,122,489 in 2017. In total, the group's revenue rose $34,111,019 or 9 percent. The numbers represent a clear resurgence of funding for the gun-rights group during 2018. Membership dues even topped those the group saw in 2016—$163,517,961.

The year 2018, of course, saw several events that likely contributed to the spike in NRA member dues and contributions—the largest being the midterm elections. With Democrats promising to pass new gun-control measures if elected, many gun-rights supporters likely joined the NRA in the run up to November. And given the election resulted in Democrats capturing the House of Representatives, bringing in a number of new high-profile representatives openly hostile to gun rights, it is likely that also drove membership up.

The NRA’s total expenses rose from $379,227,070 in 2017 to $423,034,158 in 2018—an increase of $43,807,088 or 11 percent. Administrative costs rose from $44,134,375 in 2017 to $69,144,170 in 2018—an increase of $25,009,795 or 56 percent. Legislative program expenses rose from $41,720,095 in 2017 to $57,231,471 in 2018—an increase of $15,511,376 or 37 percent. Fundraising costs went up by $14,777,728 or 26 percent in 2018.

A further breakdown of "administrative" costs provided in the report shows that new legal fees made up the bulk of the increase. Those administrative legal fees rose from $4,616,535 in 2017 to $21,911,953 in 2018—an increase of $17,295,418 or 374 percent. Legal fees also grew beyond the administrative category, according to the report. Overall, the group's spending on "legal, audit and taxes" increased by from $12,931,621 in 2017 to $33,502,387 in 2018—an increase of $20,570,766 or 159 percent.

The increased legal spending came as the NRA faced multiple fights from congressional inquiries to suits over their gun-carry program to an investigation launched by New York attorney general Letitia James, a Democrat who has referred to the gun-rights group as a "terrorist organization." The legal fees were also at the center of the recent NRA leadership fight. Former president Oliver North and former first vice president Richard Childress called the $24 million worth of payments made to the law firm Brewer Attorneys and Counselors between March 2018 and February 2019 "excessive" and said the firm was "draining NRA cash at mindboggling speeds" in documents leaked online earlier this month.

The gun-rights group also cut costs in a number of areas. Public affairs expenditures dropped by $5,484,743—or 12 percent—to $39,413,517. Safety, education, and training went from $42,599,871 in 2017 to $32,716,600—a decrease of $9,883,271 or 23 percent.

Ultimately, the NRA reported spending $10,800,650 more than it brought in during 2018. That's up from the $1,104,581 deficit the group ran in 2017. The group also reported net assets without donor restrictions tied to them of negative $8,659,859 but more than $153,393,024 in net assets with donor restrictions attached to it. They ended the year with total net assets of $144,733,165, down from $155,533,815 in 2017.

The annual report represents a broad view of the NRA's efforts since it includes the combined financials of the six different groups of varying tax classifications that represent the full breadth of what constitutes the NRA's activism and education efforts. The report includes the National Rifle Association of America, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit membership organization, and the NRA Political Victory Fund, a Political Action Committee. It also includes the four 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups affiliated with the NRA—the NRA Special Contribution Fund, NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, NRA Freedom Action Foundation, and the NRA Foundation, Inc.

The report gives a more complete view of the organization's health and activities than the reports compiled by the individual organizations that make up the NRA since the organizations lend money or pay bills to one another for various services. However, the report only gives a top-level view of the whole operation and does not break down revenues or expenses by organization where other reports like the National Rifle Association of America's Form 990 or the NRA Political Victory Fund's Form 3x provide more detailed disclosures.

On Wednesday, the NRA's top contractor Ackerman McQueen announced it will formally end its relationship with the gun-rights group, likely affecting future expenditures.

"Today, faced with the NRA's many inexplicable actions that have constructively terminated the parties' Services Agreement, Ackerman McQueen decided it is time to stand up for the truth, and formally provide a Notice to Terminate its almost four-decade long relationship with the National Rifle Association," Ackerman McQueen said in an official statement first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The announcement comes after Ackerman and the NRA traded dueling lawsuits stemming from the group's recent leadership fight. Ackerman and its subsidiaries make up a large portion of the NRA's spending on outside contractors with the group paying them about $40 million in 2017. Since Ackerman runs NRATV, some of the group's strategic public relations efforts, some of the operations for NRA events, and employs some of its best-known personalities, it is unclear how the NRA will fill those rolls moving forward.

NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam did not respond to a request for comment.