NRA’s Longtime Ad Agency Disputes ‘False Claims’ in Lawsuit Over Millions in Billings

Ackerman McQueen has worked on the business for 38 years

Then-candidate Donald Trump addressed the 2016 NRA Convention. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Last Friday, the National Rifle Association sued advertising agency Ackerman McQueen over matters concerning the allocation of millions in fees for work on its business, stating that the agency has failed to comply with requests for related documents as part of an ongoing internal audit. Ackerman McQueen—which is based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and has held the NRA account for nearly 40 years—called these assertions “false” and “frivolous,” vowing to fight them in court.

The suit’s primary claim, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday, holds that the agency resisted calls by the NRA to justify its billings. The organization paid the agency, which is also its largest single vendor, more than $40 million in 2017.

Documents filed in Alexandria, Virginia Circuit Court are available only in person or by mail, but several news organizations have reported on the filing this week.

Both the WSJ and The New York Times, for example, wrote that the NRA accused the agency of withholding details about how it spends the aforementioned money, a large part of which goes to producing the organization’s increasingly political content channel NRATV. The client recently reported losing $55 million in income last year due to a significant decline in contributions made by individual members.

Ackerman McQueen directly disputed the suit’s claims in a statement provided to Adweek.

“During a three-week review, an NRA forensic auditing firm received every single piece of information they [the NRA] requested,” it read. “Further, the NRA has had consistent access to any and all documents regarding NRATV analytics.”

The suit specifically claims that Ackerman McQueen withheld a personnel contract, but the agency’s statement said its law firm, Williams & Connolly, provided that information to the client before the filing as “a result of a process for delivery of such highly confidential information.”

“This flagrant misrepresentation, along with other false claims, serve as the foundation of malicious intent exemplified by this lawsuit,” the statement continued.

The filing accuses Ackerman McQueen of overcharging for its own services by invoicing the salaries of employees who were working on multiple accounts at the time, as well as withholding information concerning a contract between NRATV and Oliver North, the former Reagan-era staffer who became the nonprofit’s president in 2018.

The Times also reported last month that NRA members had begun questioning the organization’s spending on NRATV as the content produced became less directly related to matters of gun rights.

A family connection

In yet another twist, the agency claims its legal counsel alerted the NRA “months ago” about “an irreconcilable conflict of interest” regarding William A. Brewer III, an outside lawyer representing the NRA, and his own relationship to agency principals.

“Mr. Brewer is the son-in-law of Angus McQueen and brother-in-law of Ackerman McQueen’s CEO, Revan McQueen,” the statement read. “Mr. Brewer has demonstrated, in words and deeds, his animus for Ackerman McQueen and these family members, and that animus pervades the Brewer firm’s dealings with Ackerman McQueen, whether dealing directly with Ackerman McQueen or through other members of his firm.”

Brewer told the WSJ that his firm, Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, is also representing the NRA in areas unrelated to this suit, such as congressional requests for records related to its reported dealings with Russian nationals. The firm downplayed the agency’s claims in a statement provided to Adweek.

“Our law firm has never represented Ackerman McQueen, nor are we counsel of record in the action against Ackerman,” it read. “The familial relationship between Mr. Brewer and Mr. McQueen has no bearing whatsoever on the NRA’s litigation strategy. Any suggestion to the contrary is contrived and a red herring. The Virginia lawsuit derives from one source only:  Ackerman’s contractual obligations.”

Ackerman called the suit “frivolous, inaccurate and intended to cause harm to the reputation of our company” in its own extended statement, concluding, “Much like we have done for the NRA and the Second Amendment over the past 38 years, we too will defend our position and performance aggressively.”

The NRA’s press line has not responded to a request for comment sent first thing Monday morning.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.