NRA's 'Cars for Freedom' Donation Program Goes On Despite Lawsuit

·5 min read
Photo credit: Scott Olson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Scott Olson - Getty Images

From Car and Driver

  • Cars for Freedom is a program that allows NRA supporters to donate their cars to the NRA. The just-filed lawsuits over financial improprieties have not yet impacted the process, but since the New York suit seeks the dissolution of the NRA entirely, that could change.

  • The NRA received 4184 donated vehicles in 2017, the most recent numbers available, and reported $1,931,798 in revenue from its vehicle donation program.

  • The group that runs the NRA's car-donation program, CARS, works with more than 5000 nonprofits in the U.S., considers itself apolitical, and just had "Christmas level" donations in July.

New York State took legal action against the National Rifle Association this week, alleging that the gun rights group committed fraud against its members by spending millions of NRA charitable assets for private benefits, including on lavish vacations and "personal financial benefits." New York's Attorney General is seeking the dissolution of the NRA. In a separate lawsuit, the Washington, D.C., attorney general has also sued the NRA.

There is one aspect of the case that could affect some car owners. Or people who want to own one less car, at least.

The NRA Foundation is the charitable organization that exists to support the NRA. While the New York Attorney General's office is not seeking the dissolution of any affiliated charities, the DC filing does go after the NRA Foundation. The NRA Foundation operates Cars for Freedom, which is a way for people to give up their used cars to the NRA as a tax-deductible donation. Without naming Cars for Freedom specifically in the legal complaint, DC alleges that the NRA used the Foundation's funds and "financially exploited" the charity, and the New York lawsuit also takes issue with how the Foundation was run.

NRA Took in $1.9 Million in Donated Cars in 2017

There is money to be found in the Foundation's coffers. The NRA Foundation gave over $18 million to the NRA in 2017 (the last year for which searchable information was available online). Its Cars for Freedom program is recent, having started in 2016 with the announcement that "Donations to the initiative are tax-deductible and will be used by The NRA Foundation to educate the country, protect freedoms and reawaken American values." According to federal tax documents, the NRA received 4184 vehicles in 2017 and reported $1,931,798 in revenue from the vehicle donation program.

Photo credit: NRA via Facebook
Photo credit: NRA via Facebook

Neither the NRA nor the NRA Foundation returned Car and Driver's requests for comment, and both the New York and DC attorney general offices declined to comment on the record. But we did speak with the organization behind the scenes that processes all of the cars that people donate to the NRA. Actually, the group—Charitable Adult Rides & Services, a.k.a. CARS—processes most of the vehicles that people donate to nonprofits around the country. The people we spoke to at CARS made clear they are an apolitical organization that works with more than 5000 nonprofits in the U.S., processing around $2 million each week for all of the nonprofits it works with.

CARS is a business-to-business group that takes vehicle donations for any group that has been approved as a legitimate 501(c)3, but it does not work with political parties or political campaigns. CARS said that despite the legal actions, people who want to support the NRA can still donate their cars and they even expect the NRA to try to capitalize on the lawsuits to get even more people to donate in order to raise funds for the legal defense. CARS hasn't seen an uptick in NRA vehicle donations just yet, but the lawsuits were only recently filed.

Charitable Car Donations in General Are Up

Unrelated to the NRA issue, CARS did see a slowdown in donations when COVID-19 hit the U.S. earlier this year, in part because people usually donate their vehicle before buying a new one, and that process was halted when many dealerships were closed earlier this year. But then July ended up being one of the highest months on record in 15 years. The person we spoke with said it was "Christmas, New Year's, and tax-filing level of donations." Aside from simple pent-up demand, possible reasons for the recent increase are that people were feeling more generous given the problems so many organizations are facing right now or because they realize they don't need two cars.

There is another car-related aspect to the lawsuit, regarding the use of rental cars when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and other executives traveled. Despite the NRA's own rules that state that NRA employees should use public transportation like taxicabs and local transit options when they travel since "such means of transportation is cost-effective," the lawsuit alleges LaPierre frequently used or approved "costly black car services," including one day when his senior assistant "incurred over $1100 in black car bills for her husband's trips to and from airports." Or the time this same assistant spent "approximately $100,000 in black car expenses for two chauffeured vehicles" during a two-week trip to France. That's a lot of donated vehicles.

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