A retired police officer from Marengo, Iowa, is among those mentioned in the lawsuit seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association over allegations of widespread financial misconduct that was filed Thursday by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The lawsuit resulted from an investigation into the NRA’s nonprofit status. It focuses primarily on four former and current leaders including longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre, who are accused of having violated a host of state and federal laws as they misused millions of dollars of the organization’s funds for personal purposes. “The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” James said in a statement. “The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law.”
The Iowan mentioned in James’ suit is former NRA board member and retired Marengo police detective Lance Olson, although he is referred to only as “Board Member No. 2″ (on pages 88-90 of the complaint embedded below) in a section providing examples of five board members with whom the NRA made agreements but “without adhering to applicable requirements under NRA policy and New York law requiring a Board determination in advance that the transaction was fair, reasonable and in the NRA’s best interest.”
In the complaint, Olson is described as “a retired police officer from Iowa” who “has served as an NRA board member since at least 2009″ but “was not renominated in 2020” (he was one of at least 11 board members who departed amid a power struggle within the organization). It also mentions roles he held as chair of the organization’s Gun Collectors Committee, vice chair of the Military and Veteran Affairs Committee, and member of the Finance Committee — details consistent with a bio on Olson’s public Facebook page.
The complaint says that Olson has been paid consulting fees by the NRA since July 2009, which under an agreement with the organization are for services “limited to development activities with potential gifts of firearms on behalf of NRA’s Office of Advancement and the National Firearms Museum,” located at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. In exchange for his services, the complaint adds, the organization agreed to pay Olson “a monthly flat fee of $7,500, along with payment for out of pocket business expenses.” He was to work under and report to NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and the executive director of the Office of Advancement, Tyler Schropp.
The NRA recruited Schropp in 2010 to run the office, which targeted wealthy members with fundraising campaigns. Schropp is a former executive at the Mercury Group, a subsidiary of the Oklahoma-based advertising agency Ackerman McQueen that until recently worked closely with the NRA for decades. At the NRA, Schropp reportedly began directing significantly more business to Ackerman McQueen. His office, where he oversaw the publication of a lifestyle magazine that profiled high-rolling top donors, was known for its exorbitant spending.
Although Olson’s contract was for a term beginning in January 2010, the complaint continues, “upon information and belief, it was not signed until January 2016.” Nor was the agreement “approved in advance by the Audit Committee as a related party transaction or by any other committee of the Board,” in violation of “the bylaw prohibition on salary or other private benefits to directors unless specifically authorized by the Board.”
The Audit Committee itself did not consider the NRA’s agreement with Olson until September 2016, according to the complaint, which quotes draft minutes from the meeting noting that Olson “has personal relationships in [the gun collecting community] that uniquely qualify him to provide these services, and that his services have been important to the NRA’s outreach and related fundraising efforts.” However, the complaint claims, it wasn’t until January 2018 when the committee finally approved the agreement in a motion stating it found that the “transaction” with Olson “for outreach to gun collectors is fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of the NRA.”
Olson — who is also a Navy veteran, former radio dispatcher for the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office, and past president of the Iowa Peace Officers Association, and was nominated in 2003 by George W. Bush to serve as the US marshal for the Northern District of Iowa — did not respond to requests for comment.
According to a June 2019 report in The Washington Post, the NRA had paid Olson a total of $255,000 for his fundraising and outreach efforts. That same month, his name appeared in a Daily Beast article detailing previously unreported court documents related to a high-profile, multimillion-dollar legal dispute between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, its longtime (now-former) ad agency, involving allegations of a coup attempt against the NRA’s controversial former president, Oliver North. The NRA served subpoenas on North as well as two board members including Olson that accused Ackerman McQueen of leaking confidential information to reporters in an effort to damage the reputation of senior NRA officials.
The most prominent Iowan involved with the NRA, Brownells CEO Pete Brownell, is not named in the lawsuit filed Thursday by New York AG Letitia James. In May 2018, Brownell abruptly stepped down as NRA president and the organization made the surprise announcement that Oliver North would succeed him.
Brownell is a key figure in a separate NRA controversy that involved an FBI investigation into the organization’s alleged funneling of money to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign through a shady Russian gun-rights group in violation of campaign finance law. In December 2016, when he was the NRA’s top vice president, Brownell joined a delegation to Russia to meet with leaders of the organization including Putin-aligned oligarch Dmitry Rogozin and Maria Butina, who was later arrested while studying at a Washington DC university, convicted of conspiring to act as a foreign agent, and deported back to Russia.
Perplexingly, most Iowa media outlets have all but (if not entirely) ignored the Iowans’ ties to the NRA controversies, both of which have been major national news stories. The Informer previously reported on Brownell’s connection to the FBI’s Russia investigation including in a cover story for our currently inactive print edition. We also briefly profiled Lance Olson in August 2018, noting his campaign contributions to Republicans including Chuck Grassley, Steve King, and Trump.
In September 2019, after a report by Democratic staffers on the Senate Finance Committee was released that revealed more details about Russia’s scheme to use the NRA as a conduit to gain access to prominent conservative groups in the US, Bleeding Heartland reporter Laura Belin wrote an article that extensively documented Brownell’s involvement. (The committee report is also embedded below.)