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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 17, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 07
NOM must reveal donors, 1st Circuit Court says
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NOM must reveal donors, 1st Circuit Court says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A panel of federal judges ruled on February 13 that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) must comply with a Maine law that requires it to disclose the names of donors who financed its $1.8 million campaign to overturn Maine's marriage equality law.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected NOM's argument that the law violates First Amendment free speech rights and upheld a district court ruling that the group must reveal its donors.

'We agree with the district court that such transparency is a compelling objective 'in a climate where the number of ballot questions Maine voters face is steadily increasing,' Senior Court Judge Kermit Lipez wrote in his ruling.

Lipez quoted from District Judge D. Brock Hornby's ruling, that 'knowing which interested parties back or oppose a ballot measure is critical, especially when one considers that ballot-measure language is typically confusing, and the long-term policy ramifications of the ballot measure are often unknown.'

The court concluded that the same state interests that justify applying disclosure rules to PACs also supported applying them to ballot question committees.

The Maine law says that groups spending more than $5,000 'for the purpose of initiating or influencing' a referendum must disclose the names of their donors. The court's decision means that NOM will have to reveal the names of individuals who gave more than $100 to its campaign against marriage equality in Maine.

Thomas Knowlton, Maine's assistant attorney general, said the state was pleased that the constitutionality of its disclosure law had been upheld.

That law has been at the center of litigation since 2009, when a so-called 'people's initiative' overturned Maine's marriage equality law.

In the campaign, NOM poured more than a million dollars in contributions into Stand for Marriage Maine, the group organized to oppose same-sex marriage.

NOM's lawyer, James Bopp Jr., claimed that NOM donors should remain unidentified because they faced retaliation from LGBT rights activists.

'The homosexual lobby has launched a nationwide campaign to harass supporters of traditional marriage,' he said. 'When they disclose who they are they can reasonably expect to be harassed.'

Bopp's name should be familiar to SGN readers. He represented Protect Marriage Washington - the group formed to oppose the state's domestic partnership laws - in Doe v. Reed, its suit to conceal the identities of people who signed the Referendum 71 petition.

He then served as a legal advisor to a secretive right-wing group called Committee for Truth in Politics that ran attack ads against Sen. Patty Murray in 2010.

Bopp, a Republican National Committee vice chairman, was also legal advisor for Citizens United in the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal campaign finance and disclosure laws.

Bopp said he would appeal the 1st Circuit's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 1st Circuit ruled against NOM in a related case last year, in a suit involving disclosure of contributions to individual candidates. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to hear that case, but is expected do so by the end of February.

Marriage equality supporters have collected more than 100,000 signatures to put same-sex marriage back on the Maine ballot in November, almost twice the 57,277 signatures needed to qualify.

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