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Maggie
National Organization for Marriage's Maggie Gallagher surrounded by her grassroots supporters.
(Ed Kennedy aka lostinmiamiFlickr)
Get ready Washington, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and North Carolina: National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is meddling in your state and is going to break your laws. In fact, the group probably has already.

In virtually every state in which NOM has operated, it's run afoul of the laws and regulations that govern election procedure. The group mostly thumbs its nose at the responsibility to disclose donors, but the arrogance is certainly not limited to that. In New York a federal judge had to tell the organization it couldn't run ads in support of racist, misogynist gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. (NOM apparently figured, who better to "defend" marriage and family values than a distributor of bestiality pornography?).

States where NOM has been investigated or censured for legal or ethical violations include Washington, California, Maine, Iowa, Rhode Island, Minnesota and New York.

But NOM isn't sloppy or ill-informed. The group has a large legal budget and a team of lawyers, knowing they'll be needed because the legal violations are not accidents or good faith mistakes but repeated and unrepentant acts of defiance.

And woe to any state that attracts NOM's attention; it's a costly crew. When asked to comply, NOM will file a counter suit. The group challenged the constitutionality of Maine's campaign finance disclosure law all the way up to the federal appeals court, losing twice. The Supreme Court would not hear the meritless appeal. Still, the state of Maine Attorney General's office—and the Maine taxpayers—had to absorb the cost of defending the law. California and Washington taxpayers have also been saddled with pricey battles with NOM simply to enforce long-standing laws.

In February, the New York Times applauded NOM's loss in the Maine lawsuit, saying the organization's attorneys deserved the chastising the judge gave them. But the Times also lamented that "states are having to spend time and money defending sensible laws that inform voters and prevent political corruption." And NOM is a recidivist offender.

With the 2012 election season just kicking off, reports are already circulating that, marriage equality opponents in multiple states are already playing fast and loose with donor disclosure and other campaign laws. They are all, of course, affiliated with NOM.

(Continued below the fold)

Laurel Ramseyer at Pam's House Blend has already identified at least three key areas NOM affiliates are out of compliance with the state's disclosure and campaign laws in Washington.

In February, it was revealed that National Organization for Marriage donated $250,000 to the campaign to pass a ballot referendum in Minnesota, and in violation of state law would not disclose the source of the money.

The vague and insufficient reporting by NOM and its affiliated groups has already kicked off an investigation by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board. Please note: NOM's sketchy finance reporting came after the group had already lost an appeal to keep donors secret back in June. It's standard operating procedure for this group to ignore court orders and behave with impunity.

This tactic is never a mistake. It's a plan, one made clear in the group's secret political strategy documents leaked recently. In one version, NOM assures prospective contributors that "one key advantage we now have is the capacity to protect the identity of our donors."

memo
From NOM's leaked confidential memos.
In the leaked documents NOM also describes the "state emergency fund" that budgeted $1.5–2M for "emergencies." State level campaign donor disclosure laws present "a serious hurdle," the documents state, and as such, the fund is needed because:
[I]f NOM makes a contribution from its own resources that are not specificially designated for one of these efforts donor identities are NOT disclosed. It is critical we have a reserve fund to give to these efforts to ensure victory and protect donor identity.
Here NOM is expressing that the group is fully cognizant of state disclosure laws and is attempting to create a mechanism to be used as an end-run around them. There are no "emergencies." Everyone even remotely familiar with politics has long been well-aware of the state battles that are slated for the 2012 election cycle. (Not to give any credence to the idea that it's okay to break disclosure laws if it's a "gay marriage emergency!" whatever that is.)

NOM does solicit donations based on specific state actions, however, and often. And when soliciting for donations in Iowa, the email included the assurance “…best of all, NOM has the ability to protect donor identities.” NOM received a letter (PDF) of rebuke from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Finance Board, detailing that state law requires disclosure of political contributions solicited for the Iowa campaign.

There is no reason for National Organization for Marriage to be receiving repeated and special dispensation from following the disclosure laws in the states in which the group operates. Clearly, and pragmatically, the organization operates with indifference to the law, and remains confident it won't be held accountable. The next disclosure filing deadline in North Carolina comes just eight days before the referendum goes to the voters. NOM knows full well that the group can submit whatever paperwork it wishes—claim Mickey Mouse as primary funder—and no one will be able to do a thing about it until it's too late. And even afterward, it's unlikely the group will get more than a wrist slap, if anything.

It is very convenient for NOM that state investigations can be slow moving. If there is a federal mechanism for disciplining a national political action committee, it has not yet been employed. It does seem, given the interstate commerce issues involved, that the federal government might be an appropriate agent to look into the messy labyrinth of NOM's opaque finances.

State elections boards too, would do well consider NOM's notorious history and the organization's repeated overtly stated intent to avoid disclosure when the inevitable flurry of complaints begin that always herald NOM's arrival in any given state. NOM long ago forfeited any claim to the benefit of the doubt. In words and in deeds, the group has repeatedly expressed insolence to both the letter and the spirit of the law.

So who is NOM shielding?


That is the multi-million dollar question, and apparently the answer is ... not that many people.

Sofia Resnick at The American Independent poured over NOM's 2010 tax returns and found:

…just two individuals contributed more than $6 million to the organization’s political arm – accounting for about two-thirds of NOM’s 2010 revenue, while single donations below $5,000 covered only 8 percent of reported revenue.
The top five contributions to the National Organization for Marriage, Inc in 2010 were:
  1. $3,416,000
  2. $2,940,000
  3. $750,000
  4. $600,000
  5. $400,000

Resnick quotes Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry as saying, “The National Organization for Marriage is primarily a shell group that exists to funnel funding from secret anti-gay donors," and he's right—NOM is essentially a national money-laundering operation. Wolfson also believes the “Roman Catholic hierarchy” is NOM’s primary funding source. Jeremy Hooper has extensively documented NOM's ties to the Catholic Church, here and here. The Minnesota Catholic Conference has already donated $750,000 to the campaign to pass the Minnesota anti-gay amendment.

Erstwhile NOM employee and eventual turncoat defector, Louis J. Marinelli left this message as a parting shot on his way out the door last year:

I want you to realize that NOM is a small group of devoutly religious Catholics supported by a couple of undisclosed sources. NOM is essentially made up of Brian Brown, its President, Maggie Gallagher, the CEO, a handful of other Board members (who are scattered across the country involved in other matters), a couple of advisors to Mr. Brown and a small and largely incompetent office staff.
Of course, shielding the few benevolent One Percenters from public scrutiny is of paramount importance; look at the relentless focus the left has kept on the Koch brothers since their meddling became apparent. (I know you're wondering, it's probably not them, David Koch at least is on record as supporting marriage equality.)

Sequestering NOM's super-secret donors away from the public eye is now probably an even greater priority as it is now common knowledge those dollars are funding NOM's divisive, race-baiting, political tactics that have been roundly condemned as reprehensible by LGBT, civil rights, racial and ethnic groups, and on countless op-ed pages across the country.

Why the need for secrecy?



The equality-minded community has been scrupulously honest in financial reporting on these campaigns and prompted no investigations or censures. There are no secret billionaires donating to fund the fight for equality ... the paperwork is in order if anyone would like to know who is financing NOM's opposition. Why can NOM not behave the same?

In the lawsuits in Washington and California, NOM claimed the threat of violence and intimidation was so great the group needed to keep supporters secret. But when compelled by the courts to provide actual evidence, none could be found, and courts ruled against the organization, finding its claims to be without merit.

Such claims do conveniently fit the group's preferred talking points that LGBT Americans are deranged, violent and scary individuals and "good Chrisitans" are victims, even if no evidence can be produced. Painting gay people as "crazy" was also another one of NOM's cynical propaganda strategies as revealed by NOM defector Louis Marinelli in April 2011.

The likelihood is that donors fear economic sanctions, such as were seen in the wake of the Prop. 8 passage in California. Boycotts, however unpleasant, are a constitutional right protected under the First Amendment as decided by the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. Oddly, NOM's repeated condemnation of LGBT boycotts as out of control bullying didn't stop the organization from mounting a (failed) boycott effort of its own recently.

Whatever NOM's reasons for all this secrecy, it's important to remember that these disclosure laws do not serve only the LGBT community; they serve transparency in democracy. They were passed long ago and by many states for everyone, certainly not for the sole benefit of LGBT citizens.

These laws were passed because transparency in campaign finance is a popular and shared value, and a foundation of democracy. But NOM wants to set itself apart, as enjoying a special, perhaps God-given, right to be exempt. But whether one's preferred boogeyman is Rupert Murdoch or George Soros, Americans agree, shadowy millionaires and billionaires should not be afforded the luxury of pulling the strings of democracy from behind a curtain.

Last week America got a very chilling glimpse into the soul of National Organization for Marriage and the response was near universal repulsion. We saw the desire to fan the flames of hostility between Americans, pit one minority group against another (even when they overlap), even enlist the children of same-sex couples to denounce their own parents. A clear picture emerged of a cabal of mean-spirited people with broken moral compasses, whose only driving principle is the "ends justifies the means no matter the cost."

There is nothing unreasonable or unfair about requiring the opponents of marriage equality to comply with the same laws everyone else participating in the democratic process follows. Requiring them to do so is not a punishment, a persecution or a violation of religious liberty, regardless of whatever hysterical rending of garments will surely follow.

Hopefully, in this election cycle we will see the state panels that enforce compliance employing tools at their disposal to ensure National Organization for Marriage does as the law requires. Only when NOM faces real consequences for its transgressions will the group understand that the rule of law applys equally to all Americans.

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