Maine asked to probe marriage referendum fundraising

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 26, 2009

A Maine government agency charged with monitoring state election laws has received a formal complaint that asks for an investigation into alleged illegal fundraising by proponents of the November referendum to revoke the state's same-sex marriage law.

Stand for Marriage Maine has submitted 100,000 petition signatures, almost twice the number needed to place the measure on the ballot under a provision of the state constitution that allows citizens to veto any law passed by Augusta lawmakers. The state legislature passed a measure that allows marriage between same-sex couples on May 6. And Gov. John Baldacci signed it into law the same day.

Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, sent a letter to the Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices on Aug. 25. It contained allegations religious organizations are hiding contributions to the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign. The letter reports how the National Organization for Marriage, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, the national office of the Knights of Columbus and Focus on the Family had contributors give the money to their organizations, and in turn gave the money to the Stand for Marriage Maine to hide the donors' identity.

Californians Against Hate successfully lobbied the California Fair Political Practices Commission to launch an ongoing investigation into the Mormon Church for underreporting non-monetary contributions to Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum that banned marriage for same-sex couples there.

Karger told EDGE in an interview he sent the nine-page letter and 14 attachments that documented the charges to Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, at his request after he first alerted Wayne to what he calls "money laundering" by the religious groups in an Aug. 13 letter.

Among the material Karger submitted were letters and emails from NOM executive director Brian Brown to donors stating their contributions would not be made public.

According to an Associated Press story on Aug. 26, the commission likely will decide during it's Oct. 1 meeting whether to order an investigation.

Karger told EDGE he hoped the commission would take the matter up at its Sept. 8 meeting because "the Stand for Marriage Maine people would be given an extra 30 days to continue along the same lines of hiding their donors."

Maine election laws require donors to political campaigns be listed, even if their contributions are as small as $50.

"You cannot give money to an organization like NOM and wink," according to Karger. "It's illegal. Reporting laws are just that. They are designed to show the public who is giving the money."

While Maine's state Web site reports donations from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Knights of Columbus and Focus on the Family, it does not list those from the Mormon Church. Karger contends the church hid its donations by making them to NOM. He added it would have been legal if the Mormons contributed to Stand for Marriage Maine directly.

"Religious organizations can spend an unlimited amount of money communicating with their members and telling them how to vote, but once they cross the line and start communicating with non-members they have to report those expenditures," he explained.

Stand for Marriage Maine co-chair Bob Emrich told the AP the complaint is bogus and that groups making donations to the organization have followed the law.

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].