Anti-Gay Group Ordered to Disclose Donor List
An anti-gay organization that played major roles both in the reversal of marriage rights for gay and lesbian families in California and the repeal of a marriage equality measure in Maine has lost a court battle to keep its donor list secret.
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) was ordered by a Boston federal appeals court to provide Maine’s state election officials with information about its donors, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network reported on June 8. The donor list has been a point of contention between the state’s election officials and the anti-gay group since NOM provided $2 million to promote an anti-gay ballot initiative that put marriage rights for gay families up to a vote. The measure passed, repealing a marriage equality law before the law could go into effect.
Critics of NOM say that the group has failed to follow Maine law in refusing to provide information about its donors. Maine requires that finances related to elections be disclosed. NOM has claimed that if its donor list is made public, gays will menace and possibly harm the corporations and individuals who contributed in the successful fight to derail marriage equality in Maine.
But the court says that the while the donor list must be turned over in compliance with the law, the names on the list are not to be made public. The Maine Attorney General’s office says that making the information available to the state is legally mandated. "NOM must reveal to the state how they raised the money, for what purpose and who it came from," Katherine Simmons, of the state’s Attorney General’s office, told the media. "They were the largest single contributor to Stand for Marriage Maine, and as a part of Maine’s campaign finance laws, the state is working to find out how they raised that money and for what purpose." The Ethics Commission for Maine elections is looking into the matter.
The June 8 decision from the First District Court found that NOM’s argument did not hold up, and stated that nobody’s First Amendment rights would be abridged by the state law requiring disclosure. Nor, the court said, would there be any "significant risk of chill" of anyone’s free exercise of political expression, reported Dirigo Blue on the same day.
Dirigo Blue posted the entirety of the court’s decision, which went on to uphold the state’s argument for requiring NOM to disclose it financial records with respect to the ballot initiative. "In framing some of their underlying constitutional challenges to Maine’s election laws, Appellant-Petitioners have made relevant the issue of whether NOM has as one its primary purposes the influencing of ballot questions and/or candidate elections," the ruling read. "We conclude that the materials in question have the potential to be highly relevant to that issue, and we see no less restrictive means for Appellees to probe the issue than by reviewing the materials under the auspices of the strict protective order to which Appellees have consented."
Late last month, Magistrate Judge John Rich upheld the state’s order that NOM should disclose the donor list in accordance with the law. The appeals court loss marks the second court defeat for the anti-gay group in the matter, but NOM’s executive director, Brian Brown, says that the group will appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court.
Last August, NOM was also required by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to disclose its donor list related to political spending in that state. NOM had sought an amendment to the Iowa state constitution rescinding marriage rights for gay and lesbian families after Iowa extended marriage equality earlier in the year.