Maine Ethics Commission imposes record fine against anti-gay National Organization for Marriage

Wisconsin Gazette

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices on May 28 voted unanimously to impose record civil penalties against the National Organization for Marriage. The fines total $50,250.

The commission also directed NOM — which has been at the forefront of campaigns to block same-sex marriage legislation and to defend anti-gay bans — to file disclosure reports with the commission.

The vote came after a four-year investigation exposed “a significant violation of law” by the national anti-LGBT organization. The penalties are reportedly the largest ever imposed for a campaign finance violation in Maine history.

The bipartisan five-member commission approved a staff report issued last week that concluded 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.

Commission Chair Walter McKee said, “We thought where there was smoke there was fire. There was.” He told NOM that to accept its explanation for its fundraising activities would be to “accept a mockery of Maine’s election laws.”

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. The final report found that NOM raised more than $2 million from donors to fund its Maine marriage campaign but deliberately failed to disclose these donors in accordance with state law. The report also concluded that Brown and others repeatedly deceived the commission during the course of its investigation.

“The National Organization for Marriage has for seven years engaged in a secret, coordinated scheme funded by a few wealthy anonymous donors intended solely to demean LGBT Americans,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a news release. “Today, Maine has lifted the veil on NOM’s illegal political activities and exposed its efforts to funnel secret money into its radical national campaign against equality. We commend Maine’s regulators for requiring NOM to play by the same disclosure rules that we and many other groups have abided by for years in Maine and across the country.”   

Maine voters approved marriage equality in a second referendum in 2012.