Dirty Money

Though roundly defeated in the last election, the National Organization for Marriage is still committed to blocking marriage equality. Some evidence suggests that it’s turning to harsher speech, hiding donations, and rolling back campaign disclosure laws to accomplish its goals.



Last november the National Organization for Marriage, the chief opponent of equality in the battle for marriage, finally suffered defeat. Five defeats, to be exact: Maine, Maryland, and Washington approved statutes that would enable same-sex couples to enter a civil marriage; in Minnesota, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman; and in Iowa, the Supreme Court justice whom NOM targeted in a recall election retained his seat. The cause has now been taken up by so many straight allies that the pro-equality side has, at times, out-fund-raised NOM by nearly $5 to $1. The tide appears to have turned: NOM loses, in the wallet and at the ballot box.  

And yet NOM still matters. This tiny organization, “with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it,” has been the primary funder and central strategist for all the recent defeats in marriage battles. It has dumped millions of dollars into all state campaigns related to marriage equality and will continue to do so. Its consultant, Frank Schubert, has orchestrated every antimarriage state campaign, crafting nearly identical television ads and websites based on identical talking points for every race. Its president, Brian Brown, has defined the terms of those campaigns, appearing to serve as each campaign’s finance or fund-raising director, in fact if not in name. And NOM works to disseminate and coordinate the ideology and language behind much of the opposition to marriage equality. More than 30 states still have laws and constitutional amendments that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, which will need to be repealed, and NOM is the opponent that will influence how those fights will go.

NOM is a small and relatively new organization, born in 2007, with a very small circle of major funders. It centrally runs almost all the campaigns against marriage equality, with partner organizations in various states that appear to do little on their own. NOM puts its hundreds of thousands of dollars into state campaigns in ways that protect its donors from being identified. Its campaign finance philosophy is that the best defense is a good offense: With the help of James Bopp, the lawyer who brought the notorious Citizens United lawsuit to the Supreme Court, NOM has repeatedly launched lawsuits arguing that states’ campaign reporting laws are unconstitutional efforts to chill free speech, even though it has just as repeatedly lost.

Watching NOM closely is Fred Karger, a gay California Republican who believes that NOM is a secret cabal actively conspiring to undermine campaign finance laws. Karger writes to state election commissions to convince them of the same. At Karger’s prompting, California, Maine, and Minnesota are investigating NOM’s campaign finance tactics. Whether or not NOM actively evades campaign finance disclosure, its state campaign efforts are centrally directed and implemented, the very opposite of grassroots. And while it purports to carry its traditional-marriage-preserving message with bias towards none — officially, it says that while it is for its definition of marriage, it is not against lesbians and gay men — its educational arm privately disseminates nasty antigay ideologies based on discredited researchers’ hateful fantasies about gays and lesbians.