February 20, 2011

Maine campaign finance law upheld

Law challenged by group opposed to same-sex marriage

Kennebec Journal Staff

AUGUSTA -- Maine's campaign finance reporting law is constitutional, according to a recent decision issued by a federal judge.

U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby rejected arguments made by the National Organization for Marriage, which contributed about $1.9 million to a Maine group that helped repeal Maine's law allowing same-sex marriage in 2009, that the reporting law was vague and overly broad.

"I conclude finally that this Maine law is constitutional," Hornby wrote in his 22-page decision handed down late Friday.

NOM had challenged Maine's campaign finance law, which requires groups that raise, or spend, more than $5,000 to influence elections to register with the state and disclose donors who make contributions of $100 or more.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, praised the decision.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, praised the decision.

"This is an important law because it allows Maine voters to know who is trying to influence them with respect to ballot questions," he said. "It is a good decision for transparency in politics."

The pro-same-sex marriage group Californians Against Hate had asked the Maine ethics commission to investigate NOM's activity, alleging that they had violated Maine campaign finance law by raising and spending more than $5,000 to help overturn the Maine law allowing same-sex marriage but not following the reporting requirements. That investigation is what led to NOM challenging the Maine election law.

NOM is a Virginia-based national group that has opposed laws allowing same-sex marriage in states across the country, including Maine and California.

A lawsuit continues in state court that challenges the state's ability to investigate, but Wayne called Hornby's decision a good signal.

"The commission has not completed its investigation of NOM's activities in 2009," he said. "We hope to resume the investigation."

Opponents of the Maine law say the disclosure requirements result in a "chilling effect" on free speech, but supporters say it does not. Maine does not have any limits on the amount of money that can be spent by outside groups.

It is unclear whether NOM will appeal Hornby's decision. Lawyers representing NOM in the lawsuit did not respond immediately to requests for comment.


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