The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

Note to Maggie: You Really Should Sit Down With Your Attorneys and Learn About Campaign Finance Law

February 14, 2012, by Kevin Nix

Maggie Gallagher told the American Independent that the Human Rights Campaign doesn’t disclose our donors.  HRC’s Assistant General Counsel, Darrin Hurwitz, clears up Gallagher’s consummate confusion.

Gallagher is confusing general donors to her organization, who do not need to be disclosed, and donors who contribute specifically to support NOM’s ballot measure efforts, who must be disclosed. Every state requires contributors to ballot measure campaigns to be publicly disclosed. Widely popular disclosure laws are essential to the democratic process because they tell the public who is funding ballot measure campaigns that affect all of us. If John Doe gives $500,000 to support a ballot initiative, the public has the right to know of his donation so it can make an informed decision at the ballot box. Disclosure ensures accountability and the transparency of elections.  
She’s absolutely wrong when she says “it’s not normal to disclose the names of your donors.” Not only is it “normal” to disclose donors who contribute to ballot measure campaigns but it’s the law. NOM’s failure to disclose contributors who supported its 2009 referendum efforts in Maine led the state Ethics Commission and the Attorney General to open a multi-year investigation against it, which is still ongoing. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit recently upheld Maine’s disclosure laws that require NOM to disclose its donors. And the Minnesota Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board recently told NOM that it has “a serious misunderstanding of the statutes requiring disclosure and of the Board’s guidance related to application of those statutes.” On the other hand, HRC and the vast majority of organizations routinely comply with laws that require disclosure of donors to state ballot measures. Why does NOM find it so difficult to abide by the law?
Gallagher claims once again that NOM doesn’t have to follow disclosure laws because its donors are harassed. But two federal courts have recently found these claims of intimidation to be completely unfounded and unsupported by evidence. Even Justice Scalia has rejected Gallagher’s arguments for anonymity, stating that “requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”
Neither Gallagher nor NOM are above complying with generally applicable public disclosure laws. NOM doesn’t get to decide which laws it will follow and which laws it won’t.