Iowa and Maine question National Organization for Marriage’s funding sources

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 31, 2009

Government ethics commissions in Iowa and Maine are asking the National Organization for Marriage to provide answers to questions about its funding sources in campaigns to repeal those states' same-sex marriage laws.

NOM launched a "Reclaim Iowa" campaign on Aug. 24to pass a constitutional amendment that would reverse the state Supreme Court's ruling in April legalizing marriage for gays and lesbians. The organization is major financial backer of Stand for Marriage Maine, which has succeeded in placing a referendum on the November ballot for a "voter's veto" of the same-sex marriage law Gov. John Baldacci enacted in May.

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board told NOM in an Aug. 27 letter it must form a political action committee and list contributors if its campaign activities exceed $750.

NOM has filed an independent expenditure report with the state of Iowa for nearly $90,000 worth of campaign advertising. That action apparently sparked the ethics board to send the letter to NOM.

"To continue to file an independent expenditure statement for future elections in Iowa would mean that your organization is not raising more than $750 from outside sources for such purposes," its letter stated.

The letter went on to say NOM would run afoul of Iowa election laws if it continued to file in this manner. And the ethics board also warned only an "insignificant and insubstantial amount" of NOM's income is permitted to come from business organizations.

More than 1,200 people have signed petition prepared by One Iowa, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, calling for NOM to disclose their donors.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices sent a letter to Stand for Marriage Maine PAC Treasurer Joseph Keaney and NOM Executive Director Brian Brown on Aug. 27 that stated it will consider investigating their campaign practices at its Oct. 1 meeting.

Wayne invited the organizations to respond to allegations by Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, that NOM is hiding the sources of $250,000 it has thus far contributed to the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign. The commission gave the organizations until Sept. 17 to submit a response.

The commission letter pointed out all PACs are required to report the names and addresses of contributors who have given more than $50 and that "it is illegal for a PAC to knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person."

Karger alleges NOM and three other funders of Stand for Marriage Maine-the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, the national office of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal organization) and Focus on the Family's Maine Marriage Committee-are "laundering money" to evade disclosure of the actual contributors to the campaign.

"If true, these allegations might constitute violations" of Maine election laws, the commission letter stated.

Wayne wrote the $250,000 in campaign contributions reported thus far "could suggest that NOM solicited and received funds for the purpose of initiating the referendum" even though letters to potential donors last March only discussed radio advertising in Northeast markets promoting heterosexual marriage.

Because Karger's allegations were "less specific," the commission is not asking for responses from the other contributors, but copied them on the letter so they would have the opportunity to comment if they wished.

Critics of NOM's tactics in both Iowa and Maine report letters seeking contributions emphasize the identities of donors would be protected from being targeted "by gay marriage advocates for harassment."

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].