NRA Files Second Lawsuit Against Ackerman McQueen, Seeking $40 Million for Alleged ‘Coup’ Attempt

The suit accuses the agency of leaking documents to media

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at 2018 CPAC Conference. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

The National Rifle Association has sued its longtime ad agency of record Ackerman McQueen for the second time in just over a month, accusing the agency of leaking unflattering information about the nonprofit gun group to the press and engaging in a “conspiracy” to “tarnish and ultimately destroy the image of the NRA and its senior leadership” and engineer a “coup.”

The suit demands a jury trial and $40 million in damages, equivalent to the total billings reportedly paid to the agency by the NRA in 2017.

Oklahoma City-based Ackerman McQueen and PR division Mercury Group denied these claims in a statement, calling them “another reckless attempt to scapegoat” the agency for its client’s “breakdown in governance, compliance and leadership.” The NRA has not yet responded to requests for comment beyond the filing itself, which is embedded at the bottom of this story.

"The NRA never expected it would be forced to sue one of its closest collaborators."
Briglia Hundley, law firm representing the NRA

The Daily Beast first reported on the case after it was filed on Wednesday evening in the Circuit Court of Alexandria, Va. by law firm Briglia Hundley.

This news follows an earlier suit, filed in April and first reported by The Wall Street Journal, in which the NRA accused Ackerman McQueen of failing to comply with requests for documents concerning the allocation of millions for its services, which range from creative advertising to public relations and oversight of the NRATV content platform. Since news of that filing broke, related coverage has included a Wall Street Journal report citing leaked documents to show that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre charged personal expenses, such as clothing and travel, to the agency.

This week’s filing specifically accuses Ackerman McQueen of providing confidential information to the Journal along with other outlets including The New York Times, The Daily Beast and Rolling Stone.

“It is a sad day for NRA members that their leadership is more focused on attacking partners than fighting for freedom,” read a statement from the agency representative. “Once again the National Rifle Association leadership’s new lawsuit is another reckless attempt to scapegoat Ackerman McQueen for the NRA’s own breakdown in governance, compliance and leadership. We have done our job to protect the brand for decades and have continued to do so despite shameless and inaccurate attacks on our integrity and our personnel by a leadership group that is desperate to make this a story about anything other than their own failures.”

"It is a sad day for NRA members that their leadership is more focused on attacking partners than fighting for freedom."
Ackerman McQueen spokesperson

According to the NRA, now-former Ackerman McQueen employee and retired Lt. Colonel Oliver North delivered “an extortion threat” demanding that LaPierre step down, withdraw the group’s initial suit and support leadership changes supported by the agency “or be publicly smeared.”

The suit goes on to claim that after LaPierre refused to accede to these demands, the agency engaged in “off-the-record” exchanges with unnamed journalists in which it shared confidential records regarding the NRA’s “finances, operations and expense-accounting practices.”

“For years, the NRA trusted and depended upon AMc to deliver core, critical services,” the document reads. “The NRA never expected it would be forced to sue one of its closest collaborators.”

The filing details the unusually intimate relationship between agency and client, which have collaborated for almost 40 years on “publicly and politically sensitive” campaigns. It goes on to allege that Ackerman McQueen violated the terms of a services agreement that “strictly limits use and disclosure” of all information related to that relationship.

The NRA also concedes that the agency has long been responsible for “shaping the public image” of group leaders such as LaPierre and that these duties include directing and producing everything from television bookings to “wardrobe expenses,” like those mentioned in the earlier WSJ report.

“Of course, AMc should not have incurred (let alone sought reimbursement for) any expenses which it believed inappropriate,” the document reads.

The clash between agency and client, the suit claims, began in 2018 when the NRA “became aware of concerns raised by multiple employees, executives and board members that AMc’s expenses and activities required greater oversight” in keeping with amendments to New York State’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. According to the new filing, the agency then “became evasive and hostile” and brought in outside counsel as the NRA requested access to more of its internal records and the relationship grew increasingly “adverse.”

“The NRA does not take kindly to threats—and neither did LaPierre,” the suit reads. Finally, it claims that Ackerman McQueen continues to provide “misleading, defamatory” leaks to various media outlets.

The full filing is below.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.