NRA Sues Former PR Firm for Third Time Since April, Escalating Already Bitter Legal Dispute

President Trump And Other Notable Leaders Address Annual NRA Meeting
Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president and CEO, speaks to guests at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 148th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on April 26, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Olson/Getty

The National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday against its now-estranged PR firm Ackerman McQueen, the third such lawsuit pitting the two groups against each other in recent months.

The lawsuit accuses Ackerman McQueen — with whom the NRA had an acrimonious split earlier this year, culminating in two Virginia state court lawsuits and the termination of the NRA's flagship program, NRATV — of improperly showcasing its previous work with the gun-rights group and falsifying billing records.

The NRA's complaint alleges that Ackerman's portfolio references to the NRA online "falsely suggest to the public that the NRA remains an [Ackerman] client and endorses the services provided by [Ackerman]."

"To the contrary, the NRA is no longer an [Ackerman] client and does not endorse [Ackerman's] services," the lawsuit states.

In response to a request for comment, Ackerman steadfastly denied the charges in a statement to Newsweek.

"This latest meritless filing represents a new low in the NRA's ceaseless waste of its members' dues," the firm said. "The NRA stopped fighting for any aspect of their members' agenda over a year ago. Instead, they became a factory for frivolous lawsuits."

In April, the NRA sued Ackerman in Virginia state court over what it alleged was the firm's failure to turn over billing records it needed to review as the prospect of investigations into the NRA's lavish spending became increasingly apparent. Two weeks later, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced her office's formal inquiry into the NRA's tax-exempt status and issuance of subpoenas.

Ackerman has consistently defended the level of access it provided to the NRA under audits of its billings practices and other documentation.

The following month, the NRA sued Ackerman in Virginia state court once more, this time leveling accusations of retribution through alleged leaks to the media and of plotting a coup against embattled CEO Wayne LaPierre. Ackerman responded with its own $50 million counterclaim, alleging that the NRA breached the pair's operating agreement, causing them to suffer monetary damages.

The NRA has variously accused several figures of participating in anti-LaPierre resistance campaigns, including the group's former top lobbyist Chris Cox, its former President Lt. Col. Oliver North and, reportedly, its former outside counsel Charles J. Cooper.

Despite annual payments to Ackerman from the NRA totaling, in one year, $40 million dollars, the firm's notorious NRATV campaign, one of Ackerman's most notable NRA projects, did not appear to yield promising results. The NRA appears to have acknowledged this in a letter to Ackerman's CEO this week, calling the project an "abject failure."

A photo of then-NRATV host Dana Loesch decorates a wall at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center during the NRA's annual convention May 6, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. LOREN ELLIOTT/Getty

"NRATV was a failed endeavor under any appropriate performance metric," the lawsuit also admits.

The letter to Ackerman was attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit and was first reported by The Daily Beast.

The lawsuit further accuses Ackerman of "regularly overcharging and falsifying invoices," but the NRA did not furnish any evidence to support this claim.

In their statement, Ackerman added that "the NRA continues to spend its members' money on useless fights in an obvious attempt to deflect attention from its dwindling influence across the country."

The NRA is being represented in this lawsuit by the firm of William A. Brewer III, the NRA's most prominent outside counsel who has himself been ensnared in the financial mismanagement scandal that set off a volley of public reporting and government investigations since April.

Brewer has been accused by former NRA insiders of padding invoices and obstructing audits of his financial relationship with the NRA, a charge he denies.

After Ackerman's lucrative relationship with the NRA was severed, the firm had to close its Virginia offices and lay off dozens of employees. In 2018, 41 percent of Ackerman's gross revenue came from its NRA account, the firm said in a court filing.

Despite the NRA's insistence that Ackerman stop using its imagery in promotional material, the gun-rights group doesn't appear to have the same compunctions about using Ackerman's work. The Daily Beast reported that the NRA recently purchased Facebook ads featuring video recorded by then-NRATV star Dana Loesch, whose work was directed and produced by Ackerman. Like the entire NRATV program, Loesch was also on Ackerman's payroll.

In response to The Daily Beast's story, the NRA said that they "engaged a vendor to remove all the ads, and regret some were still publicly available."