By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com September 01 2009 5:05 PM ET
The National Organization for Marriage and other groups opposing marriage equality are facing ethics investigations in both Maine and Iowa.
According to complaints filed with two state ethics boards, NOM has repeatedly accepted large sums of money and functioned as a political action committee (PAC) in those states but failed to disclose the names of its donors.
The executive director of the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics and Elections, Jonathan Wayne, sent a four-page letter on Monday to Joseph Keaney, treasurer of Stand for Marriage Maine PAC, and Brian Brown, executive director of NOM, seeking written responses by September 17 to charges made by Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate that the two organizations are “laundering money.”
According to the ethics commission letter, potential violations include section 1060(6) of Maine’s election law, which states, “All PACs are required to report the names and addresses of contributors who have given more than $50 to the PAC," and section 1004(3) and 1004-A(3), which states, “it is illegal for a PAC to knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person."
Karger noted in his letter to the ethics commission filed last week that the four largest organizational donors to the anti-equality Stand for Marriage Maine PAC -- the National Organization for Marriage ($160,000), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland ($100,000), Knights of Columbus, Washington, D.C. ($50,000), and Focus on the Family ($31,000) -- “gave 99.999% of the money raised” by the PAC.
While the Stand for Marriage PAC raised just over $343,500 from 12 donors according to its quarterly report ended July 15, 2009, the pro–marriage equality No on 1 PAC raised a little over $143,000 from 187 donors. Donations of less than $50 are not required to be listed.
The charges parallel those made in a joint complaint filed Monday in Iowa by LGBT advocacy group One Iowa and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund alleging that NOM has violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws.
The complaint charges that NOM reported spending $86,060 in TV and radio ads in support of Stephen Burgmeier for the Hawkeye State’s September 1 special election -- an action that seemingly constitutes NOM as a political action committee in the state -- but has not disclosed the names of its donors.
The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board already sent a letter to NOM’s Brian Brown last Friday warning, “if people are going to donate to your organization for express advocacy activities in Iowa and those donations exceed $750 in the aggregate in the calendar year, your organization will be required to form a PAC and disclose those contributors.”
The complaint filed with the ethics commission says, “NOM has a history of funneling secret money throughout the country to engage in similar activity. They refer to their Iowa campaign as a ‘targeted intervention’ into Iowa politics yet refuse to disclose who is behind their activity. Iowa voters deserve better than this and have enacted laws to prevent this type of deception.”
NOM’s lawyer, Barry Bostrom, has flat-out denied the allegations, calling them “unfounded and scurrilous.”
“These accusations and complaints are intended to inhibit our freedom of speech and freedom of association,” Bostrom told The Iowa Independent. “But we intend to aggressively safeguard these rights, while complying with all state and federal laws.”
But Des Moines attorney Sharon Malheiro says the lack of transparency undermines the democratic process.
“Election laws are necessary to protect public confidence in our democratic system,” she says. “When outsiders try to pervert the justice system and work around the election laws of our state, our public officials must call them out and hold them accountable.”