(Bloomberg) -- The National Rifle Association has chosen as its next president Oliver North, a retired Marine Corps officer whose convictions in the late-1980s Iran-Contra affair were overturned, the group said in a statement.
North, an author and conservative commentator, is resigning from Fox News immediately and will take on the new role "within a few weeks," as soon as his business affairs are put in order, according to the statement issued Monday.
“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our association,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said in the statement, adding the group’s members "are proud to stand with him."
The decision follows the NRA annual meeting in Dallas over the weekend. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other Republican leaders spoke at the event. More than 87,000 people attended, which the NRA said was a record.
“You give your time, your energy, your vote and your voice to stand strong for those sacred rights given to us by God, including the right to self-defense,” Trump told NRA members Friday.
The president’s relationship with the NRA has come under scrutiny after a McClatchy report in January that U.S. authorities were investigating whether the gun-rights group funneled Russian money into the 2016 election. The NRA said it received $2,512 from people with Russian addresses between 2015 and April 2018. The organization spent $31.2 million supporting Trump’s bid for the presidency.
The NRA faced calls for a boycott earlier this year as part of a nationwide protest led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after a Feb. 14 mass shooting that left 17 dead at the school. Businesses that offered NRA members discounts, including Delta Air Lines Inc. and Hertz Corp., cut ties with the group
While serving on the National Security Council during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, North was a key player when the administration shipped weapons to Iran in a bid to free U.S. hostages held in Lebanon, then used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in defiance of a congressional ban on aiding the group. North was found guilty of deceiving Congress, destroying government documents and receiving illegal gratuities. His convictions were overturned on appeal.
North, though “a well-known figure in our history,” won’t have a significant day-to-day role, according to Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain who with his wife, former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, is a gun-control advocate. Giffords was seriously wounded in a mass shooting incident at a constituent meeting in her Arizona district in 2011.
“President is pretty much a symbolic role,” Kelly told reporters in Trenton, where he appeared alongside his wife and Governor Phil Murphy for an announcement on combating gun violence.
North is an NRA board member and has appeared at the organization’s events, including its leadership forum and a cruise arranged for its larger individual donors.
“I am honored to have been selected by the NRA Board to soon serve as this great organization’s president,” North said in a statement. "I am eager to hit the ground running."
North will be taking the reins of a political powerhouse. The NRA disclosed spending a record $54.4 million to influence federal elections in 2016, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2017, it disclosed spending $5.1 million to lobby the federal government, including Congress.
In March, the first full month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the NRA’s political action committee took in $2.4 million in contributions. That was more money than it had raised in any month going back to 1996, the earliest year for which Federal Election Commission records are available.
Pete Brownell, the NRA’s current president, is stepping down from his post to devote time to his company, a firearms and related supplies dealer, according to the group’s statement.
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