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After Four-Year Investigation, Ethics Commission Details Sophisticated Illegal Financial Scheme; Recommends Civil Penalties Totaling More than $50,000 and Disclosure of Donors
WASHINGTON – In the strongest governmental action taken to date against the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices staff today issued a report concluding that NOM intentionally violated Maine law by failing to register or report its activities despite playing a central role in co-managing and funding a $3 million marriage referendum campaign in 2009. “The staff views NOM’s failure to register and file financial reports as a significant violation of law,” the report states. “Maine people deserve to know who is funding political campaigns to influence their vote.”
The report recommends civil penalties against NOM totaling $50,250 and that NOM be directed to register as a ballot question committee and file campaign finance reports reflecting its contributions and expenditures in support of the 2009 Maine referendum. The full Commission will vote on the staff recommendation at its meeting on May 28. Today’s report comes days after a federal district judge in Oregon rejected NOM’s request to intervene in a case challenging that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Today NOM filed an emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay marriages in anticipation of the court’s ruling in the case.
“This detailed investigative report once and for all exposes NOM’s fundamental mission to secretly and illegally funnel contributions from a few large unnamed donors to its extreme political causes,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin. “NOM was formed to be an illegal pass-through for a few secret donors to fund discrimination against LGBT Americans. Maine’s regulators have caught on and said enough is enough.”
Over the past four years, following a complaint by Fred Karger, the Commission conducted the most detailed investigation of NOM’s activities to date. The investigation included deposing NOM’s head Brian Brown and subpoenaing documents, both of which were critical to uncovering the grand scheme to violate state disclosure requirements. The investigation was significantly delayed by a series of lawsuits initiated by NOM intended to stonewall the investigation. NOM appealed unsuccessfully all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in its effort to evade Maine’s public disclosure law.
Among other findings, the 37-page investigative report found:
· NOM played the critical leadership role in the 2009 referendum campaign. Political consultants close to NOM had significant leadership positions within the campaign and NOM was by far the largest donor. The Commission determined that NOM failed to tell the truth when it stated that it made no expenditures to promote the referendum other than by monetary contributions.
· The 2009 Maine referendum was by far the most important project for NOM that year. NOM spent 32% of its total funds in 2009 on the Maine campaign. The report cites internal documents and depositions showing the strategic importance of Maine and the deep financial commitment NOM made to the campaign.
· NOM promised its donors anonymity if they gave directly to NOM. According to the report, “NOM intentionally set up its fundraising strategy to avoid donor disclosure laws.”
· NOM sent out a series of e-mails specifically soliciting contributions from Maine and received contributions sufficient to require it to register as a ballot question committee.
· NOM also qualified as a ballot question committee through contributions from major donors. The report noted that in 2009, NOM raised 75% of its revenue from 14 major donors. Contrary to NOM’s representations, the report found that “the basic elements of NOM’s communications are known, and they indicate that NOM told major donors in 2009 about NOM’s activities in support of the Maine referendum and NOM’s specific commitment to financially support the Maine referendum.” NOM failed to disclose these donors in accordance with state law.
The report further explains that there are no mitigating circumstances that would warrant a lesser penalty. The investigation notes that NOM had experience in filing campaign finance reports, is a sophisticated political advocacy organization and had legal counsel. Instead, NOM made a “deliberate decision” not to register in order to hide its donors from public view. In fact, the report states, “NOM never intended to file financial reports with the Commission. After considering the information gathered in the investigation, the staff’s view is that harm to the public caused by NOM’s non-compliance in the 2009 election was too serious to warrant a waiver.”
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