NOM challenges orders to report donor names

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 17, 2010

The National Organization for Marriage is going to court in two states to prevent revealing its list of donors to campaigns against marriage for gays and lesbians.

It was among the litigants that filed Protect Marriage v. Bowen, a lawsuit against the California secretary of state challenging the Golden State's election laws requiring the reporting of names of contributors of at least $100, last December. And NOM joined with two other conservative groups this month to challenge Maine's ten-year-old Clean Elections law in federal court. The plaintiffs contend the law is unconstitutional because it infringes on First Amendment free speech rights.

NOM has been fighting elections commissions in both states, which have ordered it to reveal donor names and addresses.

The organization contributed millions to campaigns that successfully overturned, through ballot referendums, legalized marriage for gays and lesbians in both states. Voters passed Proposition 8 in California in 2008 and Question 1 in Maine in 2009.

A U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco ruled on Aug. 4 Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, but the case is expected to go the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Maine suit, filed by NOM, the Maine Heritage Policy Center and the James Madison Center for Free Speech of Terre Haute, Ind., focuses on matching funds provided to publicly financed candidates. The suit seeks to halt such payments.

James Bopp, Jr., the attorney NOM hired in its fight with the Maine Ethics Commission over revealing donor names, is representing all three organizations in the case.

In late June, the ethics commission once again rejected NOM's attempt to block an order requiring it to reveal donors. And a U.S. District Court judge earlier this year overruled NOM's request that it not have to comply with the commission's order. The lawsuit appears to be the latest tactic to avoid compliance.

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections called the lawsuit "an attack on the will of the people" and claimed it's the "latest attempt in a national strategy to buy influence and bypass the will of the people in Maine and around the country."

The organization termed the suit to be frivolous. "Mainers have spoken, and Maine people overwhelmingly support Clean Elections," said co-chair Alison Smith in a statement.

The law "keeps big-money special interests at bay and keeps Maine citizens at the table when decisions are made about what is best for our state," she added. "Clean Elections requires campaigns to be open, fair and honest. This lawsuit is meant to undermine the will of Maine people."

Maine was the first state in the nation to pass a Clean Elections law, which a federal court found to be constitutional in a challenge 10 years ago.

Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate (now called Rights Equal Rights), began the controversy over campaign funding by marriage opponents when he filed complaints with the California and Maine ethics commissions.

As part of the California lawsuit, plaintiffs have subpoenaed all of Karger's records that led to his complaint with the state ethics commission. He is fighting the subpoena.

Karger is exploring running for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. He would be the first openly gay presidential candidate in history if he decides to seek the nomination.

"The super-mysterious National Organization for Marriage is relentless in its desire to intimidate and harm people through its mean, untruthful and potentially illegal activities," Karger told EDGE in e-mail when asked to comment on the lawsuits. "The ones hurt the most by NOM are the very ones they claim they want to protect, our LGBTQ youth. A Congressional Investigation is needed of the National Organization for Marriage."

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].