The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices today unanimously adopted a staff recommendation to impose a record fine on the National Organization for Marriage and compel the antigay group to reveal the names of donors to its 2009 campaign to repeal the state's marriage equality law.
NOM officials said they would fight the ruling, which will become final at the commission's June meeting, after which NOM will have 30 days to appeal in Maine Superior Court, reports the Portland Press Herald.
The commission's staff last week released its report on NOM's political activities in Maine, and called for a fine of $50,250, which would be more than double the largest ethics fine previously levied against a political action committee in the state. The fine penalizes NOM for failing to register as a PAC and file campaign finance reports, and the commission's decision also means NOM will have to register retroactively and release its financial reports, including the names of donors. NOM has resisted disclosing the names, saying it would subject donors to harassment.
The staff used bank statements to track the movement of money between NOM and Stand for Marriage Maine, the group that put the marriage equality repeal on the ballot, and which had NOM president Brian Brown as an operating officer. "The records show that some donors gave specific amounts to NOM's treasury," the Press Herald reports. "On the very same day, the records show that identical, or nearly identical, amounts were transferred to Stand for Marriage Maine."
NOM board chairman John Eastman contended that the ethics commission did not prove that donations to the organization in 2009 were earmarked for the Maine repeal effort, the Press Herald reports. But commission members were skeptical.
"Your organization gave two-thirds of the [campaign money] to the [Maine] committee," said commissioner Michael Healy. "I have a hard time not concluding that you didn't control the ballot question committee." Commission chairman Walter McKee said that to believe the movement of funds was coincidental would be to "accept a mockery of Maine's election laws."
Fred Karger, the California gay activist and former presidential hopeful who filed the complaint against NOM in Maine, told the Press Herald that "NOM definitely picked the wrong state to break the law."
The Human Rights Campaign also praised the decision, with president Chad Griffin releasing a statement saying, "We commend Maine's regulators for requiring NOM to play by the same disclosure rules that we and many other groups have abided by for years in Maine and across the country."
However, NOM's Eastman contended that HRC operated in the same manner as NOM during the 2009 referendum fight and again in 2012, when voters reinstated marriage equality through another ballot measure. He said NOM would file a complaint against HRC, the Press Herald reports.
Asked for comment on NOM's allegations, an HRC spokesperson told The Advocate, "NOM is now wanting to point their dirty fingers of blame at someone else. It won't work."