An escalating legal fight between the National Rifle Association and Ackerman McQueen, its longtime partner in advertising, production and public relations, boiled over this week as the agency moved to terminate its contract with the gun rights group after nearly 40 years.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the news this afternoon.
This latest development follows a pair of lawsuits, filed over the past six weeks, in which the NRA accused the agency of failing to comply with records requests and conspiring to “tarnish and ultimately destroy the image of the NRA and its senior leadership,” including CEO Wayne LaPierre.
The second case allegedly came after Ackerman McQueen told the NRA that it would file a countersuit. In that document, the agency disputed its client’s key claims and demanded up to $100 million in damages.
“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,” read a statement from the agency’s public relations division, Mercury Group.
The statement essentially claims that the NRA’s own actions forced Ackerman McQueen to take this step and goes on to blame “chaos” within the organization itself.
“Over the last very difficult year, the NRA’s chaos led us to lose faith in the organization’s willingness to act on behalf of NRA’s mission,” it reads. “We implored everyone involved to stay true to the NRA membership. In return, we were attacked in frivolous lawsuits and defamed with made-up stories that were then cowardly peddled to the media. Our employees’ rights to privacy were challenged by a determination to drag false allegations into the public with leaks and innuendo. The intent was to make us afraid. We will never fear the truth.”
Immediately after this story went live, the NRA’s law firm, Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, made its own statement.
“Given the scrutiny it is facing in multiple lawsuits, it is not surprising that Ackerman now attempts to escape the consequences of its own conduct,” read a quote from partner and counsel William A. Brewer III. “The NRA believes that when confronted with inquiries about its services and billing records, Ackerman not only failed to cooperate—it sponsored a failed coup attempt to unseat Wayne Lapierre. The NRA alleges that Ackerman not only attempted to derail an investigation into its conduct, but unleashed a smear campaign against any who dared to hold the agency accountable.”
Brewer went on to call Ackerman McQueen’s announcement “welcome news” but said it “does not resolve the NRA’s legal actions” against that organization. “The agency was a longstanding vendor of the NRA. But like any other vendor, it will be held accountable—in the best interest of all NRA members.”
The firm also provided a statement from NRA managing director of public affairs Andrew Arulanandam. “The NRA can now begin transitioning various communications functions,” he said. “The NRA is eager to return the focus of its messaging to our core mission—the Second Amendment and our steadfast fight to protect America’s constitutional freedoms.”
Arulanandam called this “an exciting time” for the group, which now has “an opportunity to elevate our brand, communicate with a broader community of gun owners, and press the advantage in the upcoming 2020 elections.”
Over the last two months, publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have run investigative reports chronicling allegations of “internal turmoil” at the NRA following New York Attorney General Letitia James’s decision to launch an investigation into its finances and its legal status as a nonprofit organization. President Oliver North later resigned from the group, and the NRA echoed Ackerman McQueen’s statement above, accusing the agency of leaking unflattering information about the NRA to media outlets.
One such Wall Street Journal story reported that LaPierre had charged the agency for personal expenses relating to travel and clothing. In its subsequent lawsuit, the NRA acknowledged that such costs were included in Ackerman McQueen’s responsibilities of “shaping the public image” of the group and its leadership.
“The NRA has been a powerful force to protect the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans,” the agency’s statement concluded. “For 38 years we were with them, as we are with all of our clients, to serve their mission. The turmoil the NRA faces today was self-inflicted. It could have been avoided. We deeply regret that it wasn’t.”
While Ackerman McQueen’s Oklahoma-focused client roster includes The Chicksaw Nation, Newcastle Casino and other entities, the NRA is its largest partner. Since 2016, the agency has overseen production of NRATV, a digital platform promoting the group’s message. An earlier report in The Daily Beast called the future of this operation “uncertain” following the apparent split.