Signage for the National Rifle Association (NRA) is displayed during the organization’s Annual Meetings & Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, May 4, 2013.
Aaron M. Sprecher | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The National Rifle Association turned to old footage of one of its former employees to rally supporters weeks after a trio of mass shootings that shook the nation.
The pro-gun lobbying group posted Facebook ads last Thursday featuring footage of its former spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump.
The ads launched just as lawmakers prepare to huddle with Trump over gun legislation that could include universal background checks and other restrictions.
The move to post dozens of ads came the same day CNBC reported that the NRA spent only $14,000 on social media outreach since the attacks in Texas, Ohio and California that left at least 30 people dead.
Loesch is still under contract with Ackerman McQueen, a media and advertising firm that handled the majority of the NRA’s public outreach for nearly 40 years, said the company’s executive vice president of public affairs, Bill Powers. The NRA and Ackerman had a public split in June as a power struggle raged within the NRA.
Late Monday, after an inquiry into why the nonprofit was featuring Loesch despite its bitter breakup with her current employer, the group deactivated the ads. It never responded to requests for comment.
There were at least two ads, and each time one is posted, it costs the NRA under $100, according to data on Facebook’s ad archive.
Although the messaging campaign costs less than the combined $2 million investment being made by a variety of gun safety advocates, the effort appears to be having an impact on Trump. Since these ads were posted, Trump has started publicly questioning the need for improving background checks.
“People don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now,” Trump told reporters on Sunday. “I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem. I don’t want them to forget that, because it is. It’s a mental health problem.”
One of the Facebook spots shows Loesch staring directly at the camera, defending Trump from his critics and finishing with a call to join the NRA. Loesch is a longtime ally of the president, and many NRA members are fans.
“We are witnesses to the most ruthless attack on a president and the people who voted for him and the free system that allowed it to happen in American history,” Loesch says. “We are the National Rifle Association of America and we are freedom’s safest place.”
Loesch NRA Facebook ads:
The NRA’s decision to post these takes from Loesch comes as their CEO, Wayne LaPierre, has been personally engaging with the president about new gun legislation that could include universal background checks, something the organization vehemently opposes. The NRA spent $30 million in the 2016 election in support of Trump’s presidential bid.
Loesch was once the NRA’s lead TV personality and a staunch defender of the organization. That all changed when the NRA cut ties with Ackerman. Loesch remains under contract with the Oklahoma-based media company.
The groups split after LaPierre accused NRA officials of attempting a coup. The NRA reportedly sued Ackerman for refusing to disclose details of a separate lucrative contract with its former president, Oliver North. Ackerman has since claimed in a lawsuit that the gun lobbying organization failed to pay $1.6 million in invoices. The most recent tax filing shows the NRA paid Ackerman at least $20 million in 2017 for public relations and advertising.
Those events didn’t stop the NRA from using stock footage of Loesch, unbeknownst to Ackerman McQueen, in an effort to bring in new members and push its message as defenders of the Second Amendment.
“They own it. We produced the original ads, but in the end it’s owned by the client,” Powers told CNBC. “Maybe they don’t have any other new material,” he added. When asked if the firm knew of the NRA using some of Loesch’s ads, Powers said, “They don’t talk to us anymore.”
Requests for comment sent to email addresses listed on Loesch’s radio website got no response.