On the eve of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan -- and for the second time in two weeks -- the National Rifle Association (NRA) is under fire from conservatives.
According to RedState's Erick Erickson, a prominent conservative blogger, "internal Senate emails confirmed by NRA Board Members show that the National Rifle Association's management team has explicitly and directly told the NRA's board they are prohibited from testifying about second amendment issues" during the Kagan hearings.
It turns out that during the confirmation hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, the testimony of former NRA President Sandy Froman angered current NRA leadership, because she didn't obtain permission to appear at the hearing – and because she appeared as former President of the NRA (she's also a Harvard Law grad a practicing attorney). The situation worsened when several members of the NRA board of directors also signed a letter opposing Sotomayor.
As one prominent board member (who asked not to be named) told me, Chris Cox, the executive director of the association's lobbying arm, NRA-ILA, "was livid because he didn't 'authorize' them to speak directly to Congress." After the Sotomayor hearings, a letter was sent to all NRA board members reminding them they did not speak for the NRA or the board.
Of three NRA board members I contacted, only one confirmed "explicitly and directly" receiving any sort of directive that could be interpreted as a "gag order" regarding Kagan. But all three sources confirmed that NRA board members actively opposed to Sotomayor's confirmation have been severely chastised "to the degree that they would not speak out against Kagan" (as one board member – who requested anonymity – told me).
Because most members of the NRA's board of directors are also heavily involved in numerous other conservative organizations, it seems unusual the NRA would expect board members to remain silent on the Kagan nomination (in fact, many have already spoken out).
More likely, the NRA, which is heavily involved in lobbying in Washington, does not want board members representing themselves as speaking for the organization without its approval. And it's reasonable to assume that testifying in a Senate hearing against Kagan would be frowned upon more than simply writing a column that does not mention any affiliation with the gun group.
But even that explanation is not likely to satisfy a growing number of conservatives who believe the gun group should vehemently oppose Kagan's nomination based on the fact that as President Obama's Solicitor General, she did not weigh in on what they consider a landmark Second Amendment case involving the constitutionality of the city of Chicago's gun ban.
These conservatives also see the NRA as having become too much a part of the "Washington scene" in recent years.
And this perception was reinforced just a couple of weeks ago when the NRA came under heavy public criticism from conservatives – including a member of their board of directors -- for working with Democrats on a "carve out" exempting the NRA from proposed campaign finance disclosure rules that conservatives view as limiting free speech. The conservative critics say the NRA protected itself but left other, smaller advocacy groups subject to the law because the exemption applies only to groups that have been in existence 10 years or more and have more than a million members.
Regardless, it appears obvious a major schism has developed between the NRA-ILA executive director and several members of the board of directors. As one board member told me, "The bottom line is Chris (Cox) wants to have all decisions go through him and have no board involvement in decisions about or communications with Congress. He was the problem with the DISCLOSE Act. He's the issue re the SCOTUS nominees."
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