NRA LEGAL COSTS ARE $100 MILLION
According to a secret recording of its January board meeting obtained by NPR, the Fairfax-based gun lobby’s multiple legal conundrums have consumed $100 million so far–a more than tidy sum for the not-for-profit.
CEO Wayne LaPierre criticized ongoing investigations by the New York and Washington, D.C., attorneys general, bemoaning “the power of weaponized government,” telling the NRA board that $80 million in cuts are needed to stay afloat. The NRA’s internal turmoil burst into the open at the April 2019 annual members’ meeting, when then-President Oliver North stepped down in protest after allegations of self-dealing and poor management of NRA funds were revealed in media reports. LaPierre is said to have engineered North’s departure.
These reports included mentions of LaPierre’s lavish six-figure spending on clothing and travel and a new home in Texas. An attempt to oust LaPierre failed at that same meeting. The NRA has also been locked into protracted and costly legal battles with its longtime public relations firm. It remains to be seen whether and/or how much the organization receives from the federal bailout funds. That will be news.
FAIRFAX BODY CAMERAS–PHASE ONE–ROLLED OUT MAY 1; WILL THEY ADEQUATELY INCREASE TRANSPARENCY?
After years of controversy, Fairfax County Police have just begun the initial phase of its body-worn camera program, the impetus for which began some 14 years ago. A VoxFairfax article on the history of the department, posted last September, described the events that led to this point:
In 2006 a Fairfax officer shot and killed an unarmed citizen; three years later, another officer shot and killed an unarmed motorist. The Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, created after the 2009 shooting, pressed for a civilian review board, but the police chief resisted. In 2013, however, a case emerged that garnered much local publicity when a Fairfax officer shot and killed an unarmed man as he stood in the doorway of his house. The victim’s partner filed a lawsuit, which was settled in 2015 for $3 million. The officer was indicted on a charge of second degree murder and pleaded guilty before trial in 2016. He was sentenced to 1 year in jail. Less than a week after sentencing, he was released on a plea deal after serving 10 months.
In February 2017 the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of the new Police Civilian Review Panel, appointing nine members of the community to serve on the board…. That same month, it appointed the county’s first independent police auditor. In 2018 the panel received 31 complaints; action was taken in response to five of them. In 2018 the Board sought data on FCPD’s use of force; over 500 incidents were cited, disproportionately involving African-Americans. No cause was established. [https://wp.me/p9wDCF-Dh]
Last September’s article said that the Board of Supervisors “seems poised to approve such an expenditure [body cameras] shortly, seeing it as a necessity.”
Included in Phase One are the Mason, Mount Vernon, and Reston district stations, as well as motor squads, the canine section, and DWI Enforcement. In all, 357 personnel will receive the body cameras, including, along with the police, members of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, the Public Defender’s Office, and court personnel. It remains to be seen how the cameras may affect police behavior.
Phases Two and Three may, however, be stalled by funding, given the new reality of COVID-19.
GOVERNOR NORTHAM SIGNS BILLS REQUIRING MORE UNIVERSITY-DONOR TRANSPARENCY; GEORGE MASON LED THE PUSH OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS
These bills, heavily lobbied and backed by GMU students and their group Transparent GMU for over six years, aim to increase accountability between universities and students. George Mason has become known for its right-wing donors, including the Charles Koch Foundation and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom its law school is named.
One bill requires universities to retain copies of donor agreements that can be accessible for public view under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); the other enforces that an exclusion in FOIA does not apply to protecting the anonymity of donor names when academic strings are attached. Commenting on the bills’ passage, a member of the group said, “The only things that would change for organizations that donate to [public colleges and] universities is if their donation has stipulations that direct academic decision-making, then individual[s] or organizations cannot be anonymous. It is the authority of faculty and departments to direct academic decision-making, not private donors.”
While the effects of these bills will be felt statewide, at all 39 Virginia public colleges and universities, George Mason activists have long been the leading impetus for such action. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” quoth former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
Other legislation that Transparent GMU is pushing includes a bill introduced by Delegate Kathy Tran that would require the GMU Board of Visitors to include a voting student member. The student would go through a process of election by their peers and be appointed by the governor.