The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

Legal Brief: Why Does the National Organization for Marriage Not Have a Federal PAC? Too Few Members

December 20, 2011, by Kevin Nix

This post was written by HRC's Assistant General Counsel, Darrin Hurwitz.

Establishing a federal PAC is a rite of passage for an advocacy organization in Washington, a sign that the organization wishes to be actively involved in supporting candidates who share its values. Virtually every major national organization involved in elections has one, including the National Rifle Association, Family Research Council, Sierra Club and HRC (the latter which began its existence solely as a federal PAC in 1980). These PACs raise funds from individual members and make contributions to candidates for Congress and President. In fact, organizations that wish to make contributions must do so through a PAC because direct contributions are prohibited by law.

So it perhaps comes as a surprise that NOM – a $9 million organization that boasts of its electoral muscle and that relocated its headquarters to Washington two years ago – doesn’t have a federal PAC and has never had one. Or that in four years NOM has never contributed one cent to a federal candidate. Indeed, it’s highly unusual for an advocacy organization of NOM’s size – especially one that prides itself on its electoral work – not to have a PAC. Why would an organization with an expressed interest in federal issues like the Defense of Marriage Act not support federal candidates?

This enduring mystery was solved by a striking report last week detailing NOM’s funding structure. Far from being the grassroots organization it purported to be, NOM’s 2010 tax filing revealed that it received almost all of its funding (nearly 90%) from five large donors. As documented, NOM has gone to great lengths to avoid revealing the identities of its donors by challenging campaign finance disclosure laws across the country.

So NOM doesn’t have a federal PAC because it lacks the most basic indicia of a grassroots organization: members. And the few members it can claim refuse to be publicly disclosed. Advocacy organization PACs raise their funds from a broad base of supporters whose individual contributions are capped by law at $5,000 per year. These donors are publicly disclosed on reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. NOM doesn’t have enough members to raise funds for an effective PAC, and just as importantly it doesn’t believe in the transparency that PACs must show.

This doesn’t mean that NOM isn’t involved in federal elections. Instead, after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, NOM has embraced independent expenditures, which don’t have the same limitations or disclosure requirements as contributions. Independent expenditures, which can’t be coordinated with candidates, allow NOM to continue to operate secretly and hide its status as a front group for a few large donors. It’s all part of NOM’s grand strategy to exist in the shadows away from public view.

NOM, of course, isn’t required to have a federal PAC. But the non-existence of NOM PAC is another reminder that NOM isn’t at all like other advocacy groups out there that have broad support. Rather, NOM exists primarily as a shell for a handful of wealthy individuals or entities to advance their anti-LGBT animus under cover.