The NRA spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing hair and makeup artists around the country for the wife of its CEO, two sources told The Daily Beast. The expenses–which included plane flights and luxury hotel stays for the stylists–are bound to fuel an already-raging debate over what some see as a spendthrift culture in the NRA’s upper echelons. The NRA, meanwhile, called it a “non-story,” and said their ex-ad firm was responsible for any such expenses.
Susan LaPierre, the wife of longtime NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, is one of the gun organization’s many public faces, and co-chairs its Women’s Leadership Forum. She often speaks at that group’s annual gatherings for female NRA supporters. And for years now, the NRA has paid for a makeup artist and a hair stylist, both based in Nashville and plugged in to the country music scene, to do LaPierre’s hair and make-up at events around the country, according to two sources familiar with the arrangements.
The NRA Women’s Leadership Forum hosts many of its events in major metropolitan areas where local hair and makeup talent abounds. But because of LaPierre’s preference for the Nashville artists, the gun group has paid a premium to fly them around the country, and put them up in style.
That may be changing, though, as those expenditures have raised eyebrows within the NRA. According to one of the sources, the stylists were booked to provide hair and makeup services for LaPierre at its member gathering in Indianapolis this past April. But as media reports emerged with allegations of extravagant spending by the gun group, NRA officials worried the Nashville stylists’ presence could attract scrutiny. So they canceled on them at the last minute. Because the cancellation came so late, the NRA still had to pay their fees.
An NRA spokesperson alleged this reporting was orchestrated by the group’s former public relations firm, which it is suing. That firm, Ackerman McQueen, worked with the NRA for more than three decades. It handled payments for many expenses related to the NRA’s public relations–expenses the NRA ultimately picked up.
“This is the latest example of the smear campaign orchestrated to damage those close to the NRA,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s managing director of public affairs. “In this instance, our former vendor shamelessly targets the wife of the Association’s CEO. Once again, Ackerman McQueen attempts to mislead by suggesting that Ms. LaPierre had responsibility for actions taken by the agency.”
“Ms. LaPierre and other senior members of the NRA fundraising team participate in TV interviews, nationally-televised speeches, and videos used to raise millions of dollars annually. Hair and make-up services might be used in those instances–coordinated, directed, and paid for by Ackerman. This is another non-story with facts presented out of context–an act of desperation being fueled by the same group of people who attempted to extort Wayne LaPierre and the Association.”
A spokesperson for the ad firm directed The Daily Beast to prior statements saying all of Ackerman’s payments were made at the NRA’s direction.
The expenditures, which have not been previously reported, will frustrate some NRA members who say the group’s leadership spends donor funds irresponsibly.
“If all of these allegations are true, they are one more example of the climate of living life large on the donations of members,” said Steve Hoback, an NRA member and former NRA staffer who has criticized its leadership. “And they in no way add to the core mission of the NRA, which is the development and conduct of firearms safety and education courses and defense of Second Amendment rights. There’s no way that a bouffant ‘do and glittery eyeshadow is going to protect anyone’s Second Amendment rights.”
Over the last several weeks, scrutiny of the NRA’s financial decisions has intensified. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the group considered spending more than $5 million to buy a mansion on a golf course in Dallas, Texas, for the LaPierres. The talks came last year after the Parkland shooting when the NRA CEO had concerns about his safety, according to the Journal, but the NRA did not ultimately buy the house.
The association has also drawn criticism for spending almost $275,000 over 13 years on designer clothing for Wayne LaPierre. It also spent nearly $100,000 in 2012 on his travel, including trips to Palm Beach and the Bahamas, and stays at the Budapest Four Seasons and a five-star resort on Lake Como in Italy. The revelations came from a leaked document posted online anonymously. The NRA has defended the spending, saying its CEO needs to maintain a well-groomed public profile and that he raised money for the group on his trips. But LaPierre does not enjoy unanimous support: Col. Allen West, a member of the NRA board and grassroots favorite, called for his resignation after the news broke and said the spending was “despicable.”
The NRA’s finances have drawn intense public scrutiny over the last year as its expenses have ballooned. The group is embroiled in a host of legal tangles, including multiple congressional investigations, multiple probes from state attorneys general, and high-stakes litigation with the governor of New York. It is also suing—and, simultaneously being sued by—its former public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. Tens of millions of dollars could be at stake in those lawsuits.
Unsurprisingly, the NRA has amassed hefty legal bills. Its estranged ex-president Oliver North estimated the gun group’s outside law firm was charging it upwards of $100,000 a day and has said the fees threaten the group’s very existence. The NRA board and senior leadership, meanwhile, have disputed North’s estimates and defended the law firm’s work.
At the same time, the group has lost some of its top political talent. Earlier this year, its longtime lobbying chief Chris Cox resigned. Cox, who pushed the group to spend big to support Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election, had the president’s trust, as well as a fat Rolodex of Republican members of Congress. Together, LaPierre and Cox dissuaded Trump from pushing for tougher gun laws after the Parkland massacre. It remains to be seen if the association will maintain its effectiveness in his absence.