Gov. Andrew Cuomo went on a media blitz in recent days defending the state’s efforts to defund the National Rifle Association, which is suing the state in federal court.
The NRA claimed in a recent filing that the state’s actions will cause a significant financial hardship for the association if they’re allowed to continue. Cuomo responded to that filing over the weekend in several ways, but with the same point: that was kind of the idea.
In a lawsuit filed in May, the NRA claimed that Cuomo and state Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo conspired to coerce financial institutions to sever business ties with the association, causing it to suffer financial losses. The association claimed those actions infringed on its free speech protections to advocate for gun rights.
Cuomo’s narrative over the weekend and on Monday was that the state asked insurance companies to stop selling an NRA-affiliated product called Carry Guard because it violated state law. Carry Guard provides insurance coverage for criminal defense costs and civil protections incurred after a gun is used in self-defense.
“[Carry Guard] was designed for people who carry weapons and the insurance policy essentially insured them for intentional bad acts, intentional wrongdoing, which violates the law in the state of New York and many other states,” Cuomo said on CNN on Monday. “We took action against the actual insurance company and they paid a fine and they agreed to stop selling the product in a consent decree.”
The NRA’s lawsuit tells a different story, one motivated by politics rather than policy. William Brewer III is the lead attorney for the NRA in the case from Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors in Dallas and New York.
“It is absolutely disingenuous for the governor to get on and spin this yarn to media outlets,” Brewer said.
Brewer said the NRA is financially stable for the time being, but that the state’s actions could impede the association from growing and accomplishing its goals as an advocacy group.
“As public filings indicate, the NRA is a vibrant, growing organization that is in good financial standing. However, the conduct of defendants, from the home state of the NRA, now threaten the financial growth and overall trajectory of the organization,” Brewer said. “If left unchecked, the actions of Governor Cuomo and DFS will frustrate the NRA’s ability to access certain financial services—hurting its financial position and impacting its ability to advocate for those it serves.”
The lawsuit does not claim the NRA’s financial troubles were caused entirely by losing the Carry Guard program. Attorneys instead argue that ripple effects from the state’s actions are to blame for their losses.
They claim the Cuomo administration both privately and publicly pressured financial institutions to cut all ties with the gun lobby group, not just the Carry Guard program, following this year’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. One of those institutions is Lockton Cos., a large private insurance brokerage firm that shared business with the NRA for almost two decades.
According to the NRA, the chairman of Lockton called the association about a week and a half after the Parkland shooting to tell them their business relationship was over. The NRA claimed Lockton’s chairman said they had to cut ties “for fear of ‘losing [our] license’ to do business in New York.”
Lockton announced the next day that it would stop selling NRA products altogether, one of which was Carry Guard. The company also sold other firearm liability policies, like insurance for gun theft and property damage caused unintentionally while hunting.
A few days later, according to the NRA, the insurance company that supplied the association’s general liability, umbrella and media liability coverage said it was unwilling to renew their coverage at any price. The NRA claimed the company, which is not named, feared New York state regulators would admonish it for supplying insurance to the gun lobby group after Lockton dropped its business.
A large part of the NRA’s argument against the state also hinged on a letter sent to financial institutions by Vullo at Cuomo’s request about two months after the Parkland shooting. By that time, both Lockton and another company, Chubb Ltd., had confirmed they would stop selling any NRA-affiliated products.
“[Cuomo] wrote to her and essentially said you need to tell people who are regulated by your industry that it’s bad business to do business in New York with the NRA,” Brewer said. “Not surprisingly shortly thereafter Maria Vullo not only issued a directive to CEOs of all banks and all insurance companies questioning whether it made good business sense for them to do business with the NRA or similar gun rights advocates.”
The letter, sent to both insurers and banks, did not address the Carry Guard program specifically. Instead, Vullo warned those financial institutions of the reputational risk that could be associated with working with the NRA.
Vullo began the letter with a reference to the Parkland shooting, and ended it with a suggestion.
“The department encourages its chartered and licensed financial institutions to continue evaluating and managing their risks, including reputational risks, that may arise from their dealings with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations, if any, as well as continued assessment of compliance with their own codes of social responsibility,” Vullo wrote.
Less than a month later, both Lockton and Chubb announced a consent order with the DFS, in which they were fined for selling the Carry Guard insurance in 2017. The two companies paid a combined $8.3 million to the state.
The companies also agreed in their consent orders to not sell any NRA-affiliated products. Both had already said they would not do business with the NRA, but the DFS order imposed penalties if that agreement was breached.
Since then, the NRA said, it has had trouble doing business with just about any financial institution in New York state. It has had particular difficulty obtaining corporate insurance, which would supply media liability coverage. Without that coverage, the association said it may have to cut its livestream television channel, NRATV, and possibly print publications.
The state filed a new motion to dismiss the NRA’s lawsuit on Aug. 3, in which it said Cuomo and Vullo’s actions were protected government speech and did not infringe on the association’s free speech rights. Brewer dismissed that claim.
“A government official does not get to coerce others not to do business with a civil rights organization merely because they don’t like their point of view,” Brewer said.
The case is before U.S. District Judge Christian Hummel of the Northern District of New York. The state’s motion to dismiss is scheduled to be heard in Albany on Sept. 10.