Maine commission’s investigation into NOM fundraising practices continues

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 2, 2010

Nearly four months after Maine voters approved a referendum that overturned their state's law that had allowed gays and lesbians to marry, the National Organization for Marriage continues to stonewall requests for information from a commission investigating its contributions to the successful campaign.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices opened the probe into NOM's fundraising practices after Californians Against Hate filed a complaint last August.

Californians Against Hate also sparked an ongoing California Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into contributions NOM and the Mormon Church made to the campaign that backed Proposition 8, the referendum that struck down marriage for same-sex couples in the Golden State in Nov. 2008.

The Maine commission denied petitions from NOM, its executive director Brian Brown and Stand for Marriage Maine on Thursday, Feb. 25, to drop subpoenas ordering them to produce the names and dollar amounts of those who contributed $100 or more.

NOM, which did not have a representative at the hearing, maintained in a Feb. 11 letter to the commission from one of its attorneys that disclosing donor information "could have a chilling effect" on its fundraising and Stand for Marriage Maine's "ability to engage in effective campaign advocacy."

"Who are they trying to protect?" Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, said in a Tuesday, Feb. 23, statement. "Every other donor to Yes on Question 1 complied with the law, but NOM refuses."

Maine law requires organizations contributing more than $5,000 to influence or promote a referendum to register with the ethics commission and file periodic campaign finance reports, according to its executive director, Jonathan Wayne.

NOM contributed $1.93 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, two-thirds of the total the campaign raised. The organization should have registered with the commission, but, according to Wayne, did not.

The commission's denial of the requests to drop its subpoenas came after U.S. District Court Judge Brock Hornby overruled NOM and Stand for Marriage Maine objections they provide the commission donor lists and correspondence.

The commission once again reiterated earlier assurances the information would be kept private.

EDGE spoke with Wayne by phone on Monday, March 1.

He reported NOM should have registered with the commission in 2009 as a ballot question committee, "an organization that does not have as its major purpose initiating or promoting a referendum but raises or spends more than $5,000."

"NOM has stated that except for some very small donations it did not receive more than $5,000 specifically to influence the Maine referendum and that most of its contributions are for supporting what it considers traditional marriage across the country," Wayne added.

Organizations whose main purpose is promoting a referendum must register as a political action committee, he said in explaining the difference between the two types of committees.

When asked what the commission's next steps are if NOM continues to stonewall, Wayne told EDGE he could not respond because of the ongoing investigation.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].