The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

NOM can’t buy a win.  Literally.

October 17, 2013, by Jeremy Hooper

They called it "a race to win."  They threw cash at robocalls on behalf of their candidate.  They used all of their social media properties to get out the vote.  And yet again, they lost.

I'm talking about the special election for New Jersey's U.S. Senate seat that was held last night.  NOM placed its bets on Steve Lonegan, a conservative who first gained national attention back in 2007 when he, as mayor of Bogota, NJ, vowed to not perform civil unions for same-sex couples.  In Lonegan, NOM saw an opportunity to send a message to D.C. and the nation.  Desperate for some sort of traction here in a year of tremendous loss, NOM was hoping to give its supporters something, no matter how small, on which to pin some rays of hope.

But what happened instead?  Staunch pro-equality Democrat Cory Booker easily won the seat.  It wasn't even close.  NOM is spending yet another day-after reeling from yet another loss, looking more like an ineffective paper tiger than ever before.  

But don't take my anecdotal claims at face value—look at the data.  For one, go look at NOM's independent expenditure reports for federal races. Start at the organization's year-end FEC filing from 2012. That report, from October 2012 thru end of year, shows $176,433.05 in independent expenditures for and against various candidates.  They didn't win a single one of those races.  NOT ONE.  And in fact, I would argue that in some of the races, the so-called "social issues" were actually part of what wounded the losing candidate.

Next go back to NOM's October quarterly filing for 2012.  In that one, the reported a hefty $38,700 in opposition of President Obama.  I think you know how that one went. 

Then there was the July 2012 quarterly filing.  In that report, NOM listed two big expenditures, one in support of Wendy Long, who tried to unseat U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); one in support of Anthony Muse, who tried to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the spring primary.  NOM spent $17,000 here; NOM lost the whole kitty.

That's $232,133 in squandered expenditures in six months' time.  Add to that the $5,000+ that NOM has already reported in the Lonegan/Booker race and the tally goes us even more.

And this is just national-level races.  In addition to these, NOM has thrown mega bucks at various states in hopes of stopping marriage equality either at the ballot or in the legislature.  But what happened?  MORE LOSSES!  In addition to losing its four state marriage campaigns in 2012, NOM has sat back and watched state after state (RI, DE, MN...) pass marriage equality, despite NOM's best efforts.  

And let's not forget the historic court decisions from this past summer, in which NOM's cherished Prop 8 and DOMA were both dismantled.  NOM has spent countless time, energy, and cash on those two pieces o' nasty. All of it is now for naught!  

At this point, it is impossible for NOM or its defenders to deny the crystal clear tragectory.  The wasted cash is one thing, particularly for the donors who surely want to entrust their cash with organizations that can actually win a contest every now and then.  But even more than the money is the momentum.  NOM's momentum is not only slowed—it's essentially absent!

What does a special interest group like NOM have if it doesn't have momentum?  Every credible poll already shows an uphill battle for anyone wanting to stem the obvious tide of history and reverse marriage equality's obvious trend lines.  Now you also have this org, the one group to which the entire "pro-family" movement has essentially entrusted this fight, wearing its bruises the way an '80s-inspired drag queen wears eye shadow.  This only makes things worse for the "protect marriage" movement.  And in fact, it is my true belief that NOM's very existence now damages its own movement.  

NOM put itself out there in such a major way and spoke (and continues to speak) in such pointed language (e.g. "This is a must win;" "everything riding on this;" "we will never be able to reverse this if we lose;" etc.) that its shocking string of losses only helps prove the inevitability of the marriage equality movement.  I fully believe that every day the National Organization For Marriage turns on the lights at its K Street headquarters is a day that those of us on the right side of history gain more ground.  I also believe that our opposition would have remained slightly more formidable had it never formed this organization and instead left itself a looser and more varied coalition.