By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com May 20 2014 3:27 PM ET
The antigay National Organization for Marriage could end up paying a record fine in Maine for failing to disclose the names of major donors to its 2009 campaign to repeal the state’s marriage equality law.
The staff of Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices released a report Monday recommending a $50,250 fine, a record for the state, against NOM for its lack of disclosure of donor names and other information, reports the Portland Press Herald. Commissioners will vote on the matter May 28.
Under Maine’s laws, NOM should have registered as a ballot committee, the staff report says. Ballot committees have to reveal the names of their officers and other decision-makers and file reports of contributions and spending on a regular basis.
“The staff views NOM’s failure to register and file financial reports as a significant violation of law,” the report says. “Maine people deserve to know who is funding political campaigns to influence their vote.”
The fine suggested by the staff “would be nearly twice the largest previous ethics penalty against a state political action committee,” the Press Herald reports, with the previous record held by a 2011 fine of $26,000 imposed on the Republican State Leadership Committee for violating the state’s campaign disclosure law.
NOM supplied two-thirds of the funding for the campaign to repeal Maine’s marriage equality law and was the effort’s chief organizer, according to the commission staff’s report. The state legislature passed the marriage equality bill in early 2009 and Gov. John Baldacci signed it into law, but the NOM-funded campaign resulted in a ballot measure in November of that year asking voters to repeal the law. The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote. In 2012 LGBT advocates put a measure on the ballot asking Maine voters to reinstate marriage equality, and in a flip of the results from 2009, it received support from 53 percent of voters.
NOM has long resisted revealing donor names, claiming that donors would be harassed if they were identified. The organization “vowed to fight the commission’s staff recommendations,” the Press Herald reports. “Chairman John Eastman said the investigation did not prove that contributions were earmarked for the Maine referendum, meaning the donors’ identities are protected by federal laws governing nonprofit ‘social welfare’ organizations.”
Eastman released this statement: “NOM strongly denies the findings of the staff report in Maine. We did not raise funds designated for the Maine campaign, and fully complied with Maine law. The staff has ignored uncontested sworn evidence from donors that we did not designate any contributions for the referendum effort and instead has focused on circumstantial evidence to support its conclusion when a fair reading of those circumstances suggests the opposite.”
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin praised the findings, issuing a statement saying, “NOM was formed to be an illegal pass-through for a few secret donors to fund discrimination against LGBT Americans. Maine’s regulators have caught on and said enough is enough.”