NOM seeks to influence November elections

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 5, 2010

An anti-marriage equality organization continues to work to influence the outcome of next month's elections.

The National Organization for Marriage filed federal court lawsuits in Florida, New York and Rhode Island challenging the states' campaign finance laws. The organization has cited the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment to void restrictions on political advertising and campaign-finance disclosure laws in the three states.

In its lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, NOM said it intends to "engage in multiple forms of speech" during the remaining weeks before Election Day on Nov. 2. These include radio and television ads, direct mail and "publicly accessible Internet postings".

The organization wants to help elect GOP gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, who opposes marriage for same-sex couples. The other candidates, Democrat Frank Caprio, Independent Lincoln Chafee and Ken Block of the Moderate Party, have said they would sign a marriage bill if the state Legislature passes one.

Sloppiness appears to be a hallmark of the suits NOM has filed in all three states, observers say.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi dismissed the Rhode Island suit on Oct. 1, saying it's disorganized, vague and poorly constructed according to the Associated Press. Lisi said the relevant allegations were "buried" in the document NOM filed, but the judge gave NOM until Oct. 6 to submit a cleaned-up version.

NOM filed a similar lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections in U.S. District Court with the intention of funding the campaigns of state lawmakers who are against passing a same-sex marriage bill.

Fight Back New York is urging donors to respond by making contributions of at least $5 to support candidates who would vote for a marriage bill.

In its Florida lawsuit, NOM states it wants to spend $5,000 in negative advertising against state Legislature candidates who support marriage equality.

Plans to spend such a comparatively paltry amount may be an indication NOM isn't serious about its efforts in the Sunshine State. "It's hard to tell if NOM is getting involved in the Florida campaigns," Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, told EDGE.

Smith pointed out the organization's summer bus tour stops fizzled. NOM first scheduled a rally in Tampa, but canceled it in favor of Orlando, which it considers a stronghold.

"It was a poorly attended," reported Smith. "Based on how pitiful the response was, I doubt that they see it as a good use of their time."

Although NOM hasn't filed a lawsuit in Iowa, it recently approached the Iowa Ethics Board for a clarification of its election laws.

Activists suspect its intention is to void a state Supreme Court's unanimous ruling last year that legalized marriage for gays and lesbians, perhaps through a ballot referendum.

W. Charles Smithson, the board's legal counsel, responded in a letter to NOM Executive Director Brian Brown the organization must form a PAC and disclose donor names if its campaign contributions exceed $750 a year.

Justin Uebelhor, communications director at the pro-marriage equality organization One Iowa, told EDGE the request for clarification indicates NOM plans to be active in this election cycle and intends "to do whatever they can to shield their donors."

NOM also has partnered with the American Family Association to fund a campaign against Iowa's Supreme Court justices who are up for retention.

In New Hampshire, NOM is dumping a truckload of money into a campaign to defeat Democrat incumbent Gov. John Lynch in his bid for re-election.

The organization purchased $425,000 in negative advertising because Lynch signed the Granite State's marriage equality bill in 2009. This buy is on top of the $200,000 NOM spent last spring to attack the governor.

"NOM's lies just don't seem to end," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a Sept. 29 statement. "Governor Lynch has proven himself an effective leader who stood up for the rights of all New Hampshire citizens. The fair-minded people of New Hampshire will see through NOM's deceit."

Gay activists believe NOM's real agenda is to repeal the state's marriage law.

In California, NOM is urging Latino voters, who considered crucial to victories in state-wide elections, to support Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina because she's against marriage for gays and lesbians.

NOM is one of the principal organizers of bus tours targeting Latinos. According to the latest polls, Fiorina is badly trailing incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer.

lesbian journalist Karen Ocamb reported on her blog on Sept. 27, a Los Angeles Times poll showed Boxer holding an even bigger lead (38 points) lead over Fiorina among registered Latino voters.

The newspaper released the results the same day the NOM-backed tour began. It culminates with a rally in East Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

Thus far, attendance at what Ocamb describes as the "bus tour to nowhere" has been dismal.

The schedule had included a rally at the gift shop in the Jelly Belly visitor center in Fairfield, which is halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco on Interstate 80.

The plan surprised the popular jelly bean maker. A spokesperson told Ocamb no rally was planned on its premises and, to avoid the perception that the company might be anti-gay, maintained it is "politically neutral".

It's not the first time NOM tried to improperly ensnare a corporation. The Canadian coffee shop chain Tim Hortons at first agreed to provide free refreshments at a rally NOM held in Rhode Island in Aug. 2009.

The company withdrew its support, saying it does not support events affiliated with religious or political groups.

HRC and the Courage Campaign have created a new Web site to report on NOM's secretive tactics throughout the nation.

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].