STATE HOUSE

June 21, 2010

Anti-gay marriage group seeks end to fundraising probe

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- The National Organization for Marriage will ask the state ethics commission Thursday to dismiss an investigation into the fundraising techniques it used prior to last year's gay-marriage vote.

click image to enlarge

Graphic by Sharon Wood

Graphic by Sharon Wood

The group believes the commission does not have the authority to conduct the investigation, said Barry Bostrom, an attorney with the Indiana law firm Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom.

In October, the commission directed its staff to investigate whether the National Organization for Marriage should have registered with the state as a ballot question committee. State law says groups that raise or spend more than $5,000 trying to influence the outcome of any Maine election must register with the state and disclose their donors.

The National Organization for Marriage donated more than $1.9 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, a political action committee that helped repeal a Maine law that allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Bostrom said NOM did not raise more than $5,000 specifically for the Maine campaign but instead took money from its general operating budget to help the Maine repeal effort.

Further, he said, the group does not want to reveal the names of donors because they fear harassment.

"We believe we have a constitutional privilege against providing the names of donors," he said.

In particular, he said there were instances of harassment in California after the release of names of donors following a gay-marriage vote there.

NOM has sued the state in federal and state court. On June 10, Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Donald Marden granted a stay to NOM that prevents the ethics commission from continuing with the investigation until another court hearing can be held, said Kate Simmons, spokeswoman for the Maine Office of the Attorney General.

Because of numerous court actions, the state hasn't been able to complete the discovery phase of the investigation, she said.

"This is just to set the rules to play the football game," Simmons said.

The state wants the names of donors so it can determine how the money was raised for the election, she said. That's the only way to find out if the National Organization for Marriage followed Maine law, she said.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, recommended in writing that the commission reject NOM's request for dismissal.

He believes that Maine law "clearly authorizes an investigation into whether the raising or spending of funds on a ballot question campaign by a particular entity such as NOM means it must register and file as a (ballot question committee.)"

In the federal court case, the state is defending the constitutionality of the Maine's campaign finance laws. Although a federal judge ruled that the group had to turn over the names of donors as part of the discovery process, that decision is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Simmons said.

The state law is consistent with the Constitution, she said.

"We believe Maine voters need to have information about who raised money to influence a Maine election and where it came from," she said.

Susan Cover -- 620-7015

scover@centralmaine.com

Follow Susan Cover's political coverage in her On Maine Politics blog at kjonline.com.

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