Recently unsealed court records and internal documents from the National Organization for Marriage illustrate the close ties between NOM and a committee formed in 2009 to repeal same-sex marriage in Maine.
The Human Rights Campaign on Monday released a chunk of records unsealed by a federal court in Maine, products of NOM's failed legal challenge against Maine's campaign finance law. In 2009, NOM sued the state after Maine's ethics commission attempted to investigate whether or not the organization had violated the state campaign finance law. The investigation was triggered by a complaint (PDF) that political activist Fred Karger filed with the ethics commission, in which he accused NOM of "money laundering." At the time, Karger suggested that the Stand for Marriage Maine Political Action Committee, the main group trying to repeal a recent marriage equality law, might be a front group for NOM -- a way for the national anti-gay-marriage group to help overturn the law while keeping its donors secret.
The new documents help illuminate NOM's strategy for intervening in anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives at the state level while circumventing campaign finance disclosure laws.
It has been widely reported that NOM President Brian Brown was on the executive committee of Stand for Marriage Maine PAC at the same time that he was heading NOM. Additionally, Stand for Marriage Maine used Schubert Flint Public Affairs, the same campaign public affairs firm used by NOM to support California's Proposition 8 amendment in 2008.
In these documents, NOM reveals that it planted the seed money that created Stand for Marriage Maine.
In a document NOM produced outlining its "victory strategy" for 2009, NOM talks about how it helped created Stand for Marriage Maine:
NOM has helped create and manage the StandforMarriageMaine.com referendum committee and is pleased to report that we are now close to having the signatures necessary to be on the ballots for the November, 2009 election. Schubert and Flint Public Affairs who managed the successful Proposition 8 campaign is managing the Maine campaign. We are working closely with the Catholic Church and Bishop Malone of Portland. NOM Executive Director Brian Brown serves on the Executive Committee of the Maine Campaign alongside Marc Mutty the Catholic Church’s Director of Public Affairs. The seed money that NOM initially provided has encouraged Bishop Malone to lead the fundraising effort—to date he has raised $150,000 and more than matched our initial funding.
Central to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices' investigation into NOM was how much NOM spent on fundraising efforts specifically targeting Maine's marriage campaign. Based on documents The American Independent reviewed last year, NOM's argument was that the money it donated to Stand for Marriage Maine -- estimated by the ethics commission to be a little under $2 million -- came out of NOM's general fund. In other words, NOM claimed it did not solicit money exclusively to fund the Maine campaign, which would have been in violation of a provision in Maine's campaign finance laws that states that organizations raising or spending more than $5,000 “for the purpose of initiating or promoting a ballot question” are required to register and to file campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee. (Under Maine law, groups do not have to register with the state if their sole financial activity is making a contribution to a PAC.)
In excerpts from a court deposition from 2010, obtained by TAI, Brown maintains the position that NOM did not fundraise specifically for the Maine campaign. He tells Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton, who is representing Maine ethics commission attorney Walter F. McKee and other defendants, that NOM never formed a PAC in Maine because NOM's counsel said it was unnecessary.
In his testimony, Brown reveals how involved he was with Stand for Marriage Maine while NOM was helping to fund the campaign. He tells Knowlton that he helped fundraise for the Stand for Marriage Maine executive committee.
"I wore two hats," Brown says. "I wore the hat of being an executive committee member and so we would encourage folks to give directly to StandforMarriage Maine. ... [S]o I did that also, but obviously from the beginning because, you know, NOM had, you know, given a substantial amount to California, we always thought that NOM would give a substantial amount to Maine, but ideally it would be a lesser substantial amount rather than a bigger substantial amount. "
Brown says that NOM was going to give Stand for Marriage Maine about $1 million and that the PAC had budgeted to raise $3 million. But as gay-marriage-rights advocates began outspending Stand for Marriage Maine, NOM started to kick in more money, Brown explains.
Brown: [U]nlike California, we were greatly out spent in Maine and, therefore, in order to keep up and get our message out, we had to do more -- there had to be more money.
Knowlton: How was it that StandforMarriage Maine asked NOM for money? And I say that because you were wearing two hats. You were on the executive committee of StandforMarriage Maine and you were also the executive director of NOM. So how did that happen?
Brown: Well, it happened in a number of ways. Obviously the campaign manager when a campaign is laid out and you have a certain budget, when you're not meeting that budget, he's going to say we need to raise more money and then everyone is going to go out and try to raise the money. One of the functions I had was to have -- you know, to have NOM give money to StandforMarriage Maine when it was -- when it was needed and to also make sure that there was other fundraising going on.
Knowlton: And so as the summer of 2009 progressed, would you discuss during your weekly NOM executive committee phone calls the potential for increasing the amount of money that NOM was going to give to StandforMarriage Maine?
Knowlton: How was it decided that ultimately NOM would give roughly 1.8 million to StandforMarriage Maine?
Brown: Well, there was complete consensus that this was an important fight and that we should increase what we originally thought we were going to give.
Later in the deposition, Brown tells Knowlton that NOM's purpose in giving money to the Maine PAC was to help pass the referendum but maintains that NOM did not inappropriately solicit funds.
Knowlton: What was the most important issue in October of 2009 with respect to NOM's efforts?
Knowlton: So that being the case, isn't it likely, if not certain, that you would have mentioned the Maine campaign in your solicitations to any donors in September or October of 2009?
Brown: Yeah, we mentioned it with major donors and we also made clear that we don't accept designated gifts and that any donations we receive would go to our general treasury and it would be up to us to figure out how to spend them.
Knowlton: Okay, but you do agree that you or anyone else from NOM who was asking for money in September or October of 2009 certainly mentioned Question 1, the Maine campaign and how important that was to NOM?
Brown: Well, I don't know that all of those things were said in each of the conversations. Often, you know, we might not have brought up Maine, the donor himself might have brought up Maine, but in response to any of that we would say that if you want to give directly to the Maine campaign, you can give directly to StandforMarriage Maine. Any donations to NOM are to our general treasury and they're not designated or earmarked and that any donations to us were going to be put into our general treasury and we would decide where they would go. [...]
Knowlton: That was the most important issue to NOM at that time, correct?
Knowlton: And to NOM's donors, correct?
Brown: I think some donors were still, you know, quite concerned about the California -- the Perry case. So I don't know that that is necessarily the case. We did not have many donors in Maine, so often many of the donors were focused on California. So I don't know that that's correct.
Knowlton: But, Mr. Brown, all the materials that I've seen made clear that NOM was trumpeting Maine as a chance to beat back same sex marriage in a blue state.
Knowlton: This was a national issue, agreed?
Knowlton: So it wasn't just a regional Maine issue?
Knowlton: So donors who were like-minded to NOM would have great interest, would they not, in promoting Question 1?
Knowlton: In the Maine referendum?
Brown: In general they would.
Phyllis Gardiner, an attorney for the Maine ethics commission who works in Maine's attorney general's office, told TAI that the Maine ethics commission's long-stalled investigation into NOM is scheduled to get back into gear next month. What that investigation reveals is likely to shed even more light on NOM's involvement in the anti-gay-marriage campaign and why the group has tried so vigorously to conceal its donors.
Photo: National for Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown speaks at NOM’s 2010 Summer for Marriage Tour, July 27, 2010 (Flickr/Lost Albatross).