NRA sues ad firm, claiming it orchestrated attempted coup against Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the NRA, arrives prior to a speech by US President Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 26, 2019.

Washington (CNN)In the latest sign of strife at the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby has filed a new lawsuit against its longtime advertising firm.

The suit against Ackerman McQueen Inc., filed Wednesday in Virginia, accuses the firm of breach of contract and their fiduciary duty. The complaint claims the firm tried to engineer a failed coup against the NRA's leadership and worked to smear the organization and its veteran CEO Wayne LaPierre with leaks about the NRA's finances.
The legal action is the second lawsuit the NRA has brought against Ackerman. The earlier suit argues the Oklahoma-based company failed to disclose details about $40 million that the NRA and affiliated groups spent annually with the firm and a subsidiary.
In a statement, company officials called the lawsuit a "reckless attempt to scapegoat Ackerman McQueen for the NRA's own breakdown in governance, compliance and leadership." Ackerman on Thursday responded to the first NRA lawsuit with its own filing, accusing the gun group of using the litigation as an excuse to terminate the contract without properly compensating the firm, The Wall Street Journal reported.
    The NRA's very public break with Ackerman -- which has overseen the group's online arm, NRATV -- comes as the NRA faces intense scrutiny of its finances. New York Attorney General Letitia James last month launched an inquiry into the organization, which is chartered in New York. A gun-control group also has filed a complaint with the IRS, challenging the NRA's tax-exempt status.
    The NRA has been a powerful political force for decades, grading politicians and spending lavishly to support those who align with them on gun rights. Notably, they spent more than $30 million in the 2016 election to boost Donald Trump. But its political activity in federal races plummeted in the 2018 midterms as the group struggled financially.
    The schism at the NRA spilled into public view last month at the group's annual gathering, when LaPierre prevailed over then-NRA president Oliver North in a bitter leadership battle.
    North had called on the NRA's board to investigate allegations that LaPierre had charged hundreds of thousands of dollars in clothing and travel expenses to the firm, The Wall Street Journal reported. LaPierre and his allies defended the expenses and said North was engaged on an extortion plot to oust him.
    North, a central figure in the Regan-era political scandal known as Iran-Contra, was not renominated as president, and a LaPierre ally, Carolyn Meadows, succeeded him.
    In its new lawsuit, the NRA accused Ackerman of trying "wrest control of the NRA by fomenting a (failed) executive coup." The goal, according to the lawsuit, "to derail inquiries by the NRA" into the firm's accounting and business practices.
    The NRA seeks $40 million in damages in the latest lawsuit.
    In a letter Wednesday to NRA members, several key leaders of the NRA's board, including Meadows and nine former NRA presidents, reaffirmed their support for LaPierre and said the group's "financial house is in order."
      "Wayne has been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all of us for most of his professional life," they wrote. "He has our support. A campaign to oust him failed -- as the facts emerged, true motivations became apparent, and we agreed as to who should lead our fight for freedom."
      "We are now moving forward," they added.