OLYMPIA — In recent years, Washington state regulators have lifted a cap to allow the National Rifle Association Foundation to raise more money than law allows through fundraising raffles that can involve giving away firearms.
But with questions and investigations swirling around the NRA’s use of money, along with a continuing stream of deadly shootings around the nation, the Washington State Gambling Commission has voted to delay a decision on lifting the cap for the coming year. The commission, which regulates raffles, is allowed to lift that cap for entities that show good cause and prepare a detailed application.
The commission voted unanimously Thursday to delay raising the amount of annual winnings doled out by the NRA Foundation in raffles, which take place at functions such as fundraising banquets held in Washington. The NRA sought a $500,000 cap in winnings, up from the $300,000 allowed by law. The amount of winnings helps determine how much total money nonprofits can raise.
The money is both raised and then distributed by the NRA Foundation, a separate entity from the organization’s lobbying and political side. It pays for programs such as firearms safety and hunter education. Much of the money raised here, according to the NRA, is distributed in the state as grants for those programs.
A representative for the commission’s regulatory unit said during the Thursday meeting that the NRA Foundation’s application appeared to meet the criteria necessary to get its cap increased. That criteria includes details about the planned raffles and an overview of the programs supported by the proceeds.
Commissioners, however, cited investigations underway into the organization that have come among a swirl of allegations about the NRA’s finances and mission.
The New York attorney general’s office is investigating whether the NRA has violated laws that give it nonprofit status.
Meanwhile, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., has opened an inquiry into allegations of misuse of funds inside the NRA. That review comes after news reports that the organization’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fancy clothes in Beverly Hills, as well as trips on private jets. The allegations have also sparked an internal battle at the NRA, a powerhouse in American lobbying and politics.
During Thursday’s meeting, Julia Patterson, vice chair of the gambling commission, told an NRA Foundation representative that she believed the organization’s policies were well-intended, to be apolitical and used for education purposes.
“But there’s an outstanding question as to whether or not your foundation’s money is being spent appropriately,” said Patterson.
She and other commissioners voted to delay a decision on the cap until they get more information.
The commission wants to know how much Washington fundraising money is being kept by the NRA Foundation’s national arm, and whether any of that money is being transferred to the organization’s political side.
With Thursday’s vote, the commissioners also directed a check be made on whether the NRA is complying with state law when transferring firearms to raffle winners.
In the meeting’s public comment period, representatives for the office of Gov. Jay Inslee and the advocacy organization Alliance for Gun Responsibility asked the commission not to lift the fundraising cap.
In a statement Friday, spokesman Lars Dalseide said the NRA Foundation has given than $400 million to school teams and clubs, Boy Scout troops and law enforcement — including more than $4 million in the state.
“As a recognized public charity — much like the Boys & Girls Club, Toys for Tots, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the amount of money the NRA Foundation donates every year depends on the amount of the money raised,” said Dalseide.
Dalseide wouldn’t say whether the NRA will supply the information sought by the Gambling Commission.
The amount the NRA has raised over the past several years in Washington has varied, but generally amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Gambling Commission reports obtained by The Seattle Times.
For example, between November 2016 and November 2017, the NRA Foundation reported $669,970 in gambling receipts and paid out $292,325 of that in winnings, according to the reports.
In 2018, the NRA gave $253,451 in grants to state programs, according to its application before the Gambling Commission. That included money for certain school programs, firearms safety and youth marksmanship teams.