February 27, 2010

Yes on 1 funder loses bid


An out-of-state organization that funded much of last year's successful campaign against same-sex marriage must testify before The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, the commission voted Thursday.

The panel is conducting an investigation into possible violation of Maine's campaign finance disclosure laws. On Thursday, it rejected requests by the organization to drop two subpoenas the panel issued in its investigation.

The organization, National Organization for Marriage, gave more than $1.9 million to the Stand for Marriage Maine Political Action Committee, which helped fund the campaign to overturn a law the Legislature passed last year legalizing same-sex marriage.

National Organization for Marriage did not register as a political action committee here, and the ethics commission wants to know who donated to the organization, and for what purpose.

"If NOM received contributions totaling more than $5,000 for the purpose of influencing or promoting the referendum, it was required to register with the commission in 2009 and file campaign finance reports," ethics commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said.

The commission issued subpoenas on Jan. 28 to Brian Brown of Princeton, N.J., National Organization for Marriage's director, ordering him to appear before the commission Feb. 18 to provide information about National Organization for Marriage and its contributions to the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC.

A National Organization for Marriage attorney responded Feb. 11 by asking the commission to drop the subpoenas, calling them "overbroad, irrelevant and immaterial."

The organization, which did not send a representative to Thursday's hearing, said donor disclosure "could have a chilling effect" on its fundraising and Stand for Marriage Maine's "ability to engage in effective campaign advocacy."

The commission rejected that argument Thursday.

"I think that, if we're going to have a meaningful investigation, this pretty basic discovery should be allowed," said the commission Chairman Walter McKee, "especially when this material will be kept confidential."

The law firm representing National Organization for Marriage is led by James Bopp Jr., a longtime lawyer for the Republican National Committee who has argued that campaign finance laws run counter to the First Amendment.

In 2008, National Organization for Marriage raised millions in support of the successful constitutional amendment in California known as Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In that campaign, the group formed a political action committee and reported its donors as required by California law.

"For some reason, in 2009 in Maine they decided not to do that," Wayne said. "NOM told donors they would not be disclosed. ... I don't know why they made that statement."

Bopp did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Ethan Wilensky-Lanford -- 620-7016


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