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Memos in NOM suit reveal anti-gay-marriage strategies

NOM giveaways
REUTERS/Lee Celano
The well-funded National Organization for Marriage has resisted disclosing its donors.

A series of explosive documents recently unsealed as part of a federal lawsuit in Maine shed light on a Minnesota controversy involving the organizations campaigning to put a ban on same-sex marriages into the Minnesota Constitution.

The documents, exhibits in a lawsuit filed by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), outline a broad political strategy to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks,” “expose [Barack] Obama as a social radical” and even to ensure that the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo stays open.

“Gay marriage is the tip of the spear, the weapon that will be and is being used to marginalize and repress Christianity and the church,” one of the internal memos states. “What does the gay marriage idea mean once government adopts it? It means faith communities that promote traditional families should be treated in law and culture like racists.”

“One key advantage we now have is the capacity to protect the identity of our donors,” another states.

Fighting for secrecy

NOM filed the lawsuit in question in an effort to overturn the Maine law compelling it to disclose many of its financial backers, who underwrote a successful 2009 ballot initiative that overturned the legalization of gay marriage in that state.

The group also has refused to disclose its donors in Minnesota, despite a number of orders from the state Board of Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure. The state agency is currently investigating a complaint against NOM and its state-level sister organization, Minnesotans for Marriage, subsequently filed by Common Cause of Minnesota.

The group claims that secrecy is needed because its donors are subject to harassment. Critics counter that it is probably really trying to hide the fact that the vast majority of its funding comes from just a handful of wealthy backers, a contention that is supported by the reports NOM, as a nonprofit, is required to file with the Internal Revenue Service.

“The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) was formed in 2007 and has worked extensively with supporters of traditional marriage from every color, creed and background," President Brian Brown said in a written statement. “Gay marriage advocates have attempted to portray same-sex marriage as a civil right, but the voices of these and many other leaders have provided powerful witness that this claim is patently false."

If the case follows the same trajectory as complaints filed against NOM in other states where it has poured tens of millions of dollars into campaigns to defeat same-sex marriage rights, the Minnesota ballot question will be resolved years before the campaign finance controversy. When other states have ruled that it must comply with disclosure laws, NOM has gone to court.

In the meantime, the documents unsealed in Maine provide the most detailed road map to the organization’s tactics yet made public. NOM’s strategies involve splitting the Democratic voter base by galvanizing opposition in the African-American community, associating gay rights with the persecution of Christians, and developing a voter base to influence judicial elections, among other campaigns.

'Not a Civil Right'

According to the internal memos unsealed by the court — and quickly posted online by the LGBT right group Human Rights Campaign — the group budgeted $1.5 million for a project entitled “Not a Civil Right.”

"The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies," one explains. "Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots."

Locally, the fight over whether NOM and Minnesotans for Marriage will be forced to comply with campaign disclosure laws goes back to the final days of the last legislative session, when GOP lawmakers voted to put a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot this November.

In 2010, in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits limits on expenditures made by unions and corporations to influence the outcome of elections. Like many other states, Minnesota responded by rewriting portions of state campaign-finance laws accordingly.

Board affirmed that disclosure is required

The state Campaign Finance Board in turn issued guidance on complying with the revamped law. At the time, no constitutional amendments were before voters, so the agency’s advisory opinions did not address spending intended to influence the outcome of ballot questions. In June, after lawmakers voted to put a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot, the board affirmed that the law requires disclosure of donors to constitutional amendment campaigns.

NOM and Minnesota for Marriage complained to the board with the assistance of James Bopp, the conservative Indiana attorney who sued for Citizens United. Bopp has described himself as on a quest to “dismantle the entire regulatory scheme that is called campaign finance law.”

Throughout the fall, the board and NOM went back and forth on the issue, with NOM claiming that the agency was trying to put “a bullseye squarely on the forehead of every NOM donor, supporter and member if disclosed.”

“This newly concocted disclosure and regulatory scheme is unlawful, is not constitutionally sound, threatens NOM members, donors and supporters with personal injury and harm,” the group charged, echoing claims rejected by courts in other states that disclosure would subject supporters of traditional marriage to violence and harassment by gay-rights supporters.

“NOM does not object to its donations to the Minnesota for Marriage campaign being publicly disclosed,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president. “What we do object to is the attempt of Campaign Finance Board bureaucrats to illegally force us to report information the law does not require. The CFB does not have the legal authority to impose such requirements. Only the Legislature can enact laws, and they have repeatedly refused to do so.”

Some loopholes created

NOM asked the board a series of hypothetical questions about disclosure such as whether it would make a difference if its funding source were membership dues rather than donations. Although for the most part the board did continue to insist on disclosure, the exercise created some loopholes, according to Common Cause’s Mike Dean.

On Jan. 31, the deadline for organizations working for and against the ballot question to report 2011 fundraising and spending activity, the group working to defeat the marriage ban, Minnesotans United for All Families, filed a report listing 733 donors.

Minnesota for Marriage filed a report listing just seven, with only $2,000 in individual donations. The rest of the $830,000 it took in came from its member organizations: $350,000 from the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund; $126,000 from the Minnesota Family Council Marriage Protection Fund; and $250,000 from the National Organization for Marriage.

NOM did not report any of its donors.

MinnPost compiled a searchable database of every contribution.  

“My worst fears came true,” said Dean, who filed complaints against the pro-amendment groups with the state board three weeks later.

Disclosure is particularly important when it comes to ballot questions, he said, because the groups seeking to influence the outcomes often have confusing or ambiguous names: “Having these types of laws that require disclosure of political spending helps us to evaluate the messenger.”

A plan to recruit children to speak on video

And the documents unsealed in Maine last week reportedly have given some churches pause about the mission they thought NOM was engaged in. In addition to its plan to “drive a wedge” between gays and blacks, the group said it planned to hire outreach workers to recruit children in same-sex families to talk about their unhappiness on video, create a roster of experts ready to speak to the damage caused by gay marriage and spend $2.1 million on a “Pan-American Strategy.”

"The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote,” it explained, “and will be so even more so in the future, both because of demographic growth and inherent uncertainty: Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity — a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation."

NOM also said it would spend on efforts to ensure that candidates who agreed with its positions would win elections at all levels. “In North Carolina we will use a marriage amendment to identify our voters throughout the state, not only to push for a marriage amendment but to permit us to turn out our voters for the judicial elections there in 2010,” said one memo.

The need to circumvent “activist judges” who could decide gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marriage is one of the key arguments raised by supporters of same-sex marriage bans.

Common Cause’s Dean said he expects the board to continue to insist that NOM is subject to disclosure laws, and NOM to file suit challenging the state. That means there is virtually no chance for transparency before the constitutional amendment is decided in the fall.

Three years after their own referendum, Maine’s voters still do not know who funded their state’s pro-amendment campaign, he noted: “They used the lawsuit as a way to delay disclosure. That doesn’t do the voters any benefit at all.”

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Comments (13)

Children's Crusade

It doesn't surprise me at all that NOM contributors prefer to remain anonymous. The shame of supporting an organization that plans to recruit "unhappy" children to disparage their same-sex parents must be very difficult to bear, even in private. As someone who was married by a gay Episcopal priest (who is not permitted to marry his partner in Minnesota) I can only wonder at the speciousness of NOM's claim that gay marriage is an attack on Christianity. In actual fact, banning gay marriage is an attack on Christian churches that accept gay marriage but are legally prohibited from marrying gay couples. One can only conclude that NOM really isn't interested in religious freedom at all.

Out Yourselves

If you believe in something, come out and say it. Stand behind it. Put yourself out there and be prepared to argue for what you believe. If you feel you need to hide your identity in situations like this (or how much you give to a campaign or a Super PAC, for that matter), you are a coward.

It's hard to manipulate people

It's hard to manipulate people if they know you're doing it. NOM has a hidden strategy to enact their open agenda because doing otherwise would let people know they're being used. People who secretly push money in NOM's direction know that they'll be judged for it.
http://dissectory.blogspot.com/2012/04/you-got-yours.html

Minority voter problem

So NOM wants black and Hispanic voters to be against gay marriage. But the GOP wants a photo ID requirement to disenfranchise these very voters. Oh, the drama.

You people are your own worst enemies

"The group claims that secrecy is needed because its donors are subject to harassment. Critics counter that it is probably really trying to hide the fact that the vast majority of its funding comes from just a handful of wealthy backers"

If both sides of the debate were responsible adults this wouldn't be an issue. But since the pro-gay marriage crowd insists on such childish tactics as "glitter bombs," shouting down speakers and picketing outside people's homes and businesses, then the people opposed to their view have a right to be protected by the law.

And what difference does it make who funds these campaigns anyway? The government doesn't have a right to force people to disclose that information, and if the law says it does, it's unconstitutional by the same right the pro-abortion people have claimed affects them, the right to privacy.

People like you.

"Edina passed a resolution in opposition to the amendment on March 20. The vote was unanimous. Edina joins St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, Duluth and St. Paul who have also passed resolutions against the marriage amendment".

You can shudder and shriek (as you do so well), but you are going to witness the Will of the People when they vote no to this amendment.

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one...and from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice." Theodore Parker.

Mr Tester forgets....

Mr Tester forgets those protesters who attend people's funerals to yell, "God hates fags" at innocent, grieving families. Of course that isn't as hurtful as a glitter bomb. The opposition isn't attacking Christianity, but attacking a brand of self righteous, we're right and all other churches are wrong and going to hell brand of Christianity, ie the right wing bigotted hypocrits who hate first, justify later.

I'm sure Dennis is equally appalled

by the manner in which the anti-abortion crowd violates the privacy rights of Planned Parenthood's clients by confronting them outside of clinics and the web posting of names and addresses of doctors who perform abortions. It is, though, wonderfully ironic that he turns to Roe v. Wade for support of the poor old anti-gay people.

Is one of the objectives to swing minority voters to the Right?

The anti-immigrant stance of the Right and its acceptance of brutality toward undocumented workers by such as the Arizona sheriff famous for bad treatment will probably influence many Latinos to choose Democratic candidates to vote for this fall. And many black voters choose Democrats because of their support for lower income workers and people of color.

This year, though, some religious blacks and Latinos may be swayed by the false allegation that Christianity is Under Attack and decide to vote for "real" Christians like Santorum.

Do I smell Frank Luntz and Karl Rove?

Thank you for this excellent

Thank you for this excellent analysis, Beth Hawkins! Let me focus on a couple of paragraphs in it.

'This newly concocted disclosure and regulatory scheme is unlawful, is not constitutionally sound, threatens NOM members, donors and supporters with personal injury and harm,” the group charged, echoing claims rejected by courts in other states that disclosure would subject supporters of traditional marriage to violence and harassment by gay-rights supporters.

“NOM does not object to its donations to the Minnesota for Marriage campaign being publicly disclosed,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president. “What we do object to is the attempt of Campaign Finance Board bureaucrats to illegally force us to report information the law does not require. The CFB does not have the legal authority to impose such requirements. Only the Legislature can enact laws, and they have repeatedly refused to do so.'

As a long-time supporter of campaign-finance reform, I regard most of this argument as bluster, the rest as whining.

The bluster is about the laws. Of course, our campaign-finance laws have never been weaker, but we can strengthen them. Moreover, not even the appalling Citizens United decision declares that requiring disclosure of donors is unconstitutional.

The whining is about the threats of "personal injury and harm," which are evoked much more by the homophobic imagination than by any actual evidence of gay violence. Glitter bombs? Oh, the humanity!

It also needs to be pointed out that when you reveal your own name as a major donor to a political campaign fund, you accept no more risk than you do when you sign a petition. I think it's entirely appropriate to require the sponsors of the screeching campaign ads that plague us every election season to accept the same public scrutiny as the rest of us must accept when we sign petitions. If the superrich feel vulnerable when they have to make their names public, I say, welcome to our world.

I guess conservatives imagine

I guess conservatives imagine that a decadent homosexual elite in the big cities is pushing a war on religion and families by advocating for gay marriage. Meanwhile a Muslim President and his atheist wife lead a secret communist revolution that demonizes job creators and hard work and wants to give all working class white people's money to inner city minorities. Meanwhile the Federal Reserve unleashes its sinister plot to devalue the US dollar by printing massive amounts of dollars in the hopes of undermining capitalism and making big banks and Obama's friends rich.

That is what I imagine conservatives think when they talk about "moral slump." Based on what I hear from Fox News and other conservative outlets. Am I far off?

NOM de plume

An excellent piece, Beth…

While nodding my head in agreement with quite a few of the points made by other commenters, I keep coming back to Cecil North’s last sentence, which strikes me as a nice summary of what’s going on in the debate, such as it is, over gay marriage.

It seems pretty evident than NOM isn’t at all interested in religious freedom. Rather, it seems evident that NOM is providing us with an example of how theocracy works. The arguments presented by NOM against gay marriage are essentially religious. There’s very little in their arsenal of arguments against gay marriage that doesn’t seek to impose a particular "Christian" vision on the society as a whole. That strikes me as a rather crude attempt to nullify the 1st Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion, and is therefore unconstitutional on its face.

Regarding disclosure, the NOM arguments are, I think, more or less as described by Eric Jacobsen. There’s no history in this society of “personal injury or harm” coming to opponents of gay marriage, so the threats being invoked exist only in the hysterical imagination of NOM and its supporters. Mr. Jacobsen is, I think, quite correct to point out that signing a political petition is an equally public declaration, and exposes the signer to the same kind of public scrutiny.

The appalling Citizens United decision had already corrupted the election process in ways the SCOTUS never anticipated. Allowing those kinds of donations to be anonymous will simply add another layer of corruption, and essentially bring an end to the democratic process. It’s a very curious position for people and organizations that purport to be more patriotic and “real American” than the rest of us.

The Rightwing Mind

Just a couple of thoughts, here. First, the paranoid fears that our "conservative" friends have regarding what might happen to them if their names are revealed are based on what they, themselves would do to those who disagree with them if they had sufficient power to do so. Lacking the empathy which would enable them to imagine what it would be like to be anyone but themselves, they automatically assume that they would be punished as "enemies" if their names were revealed in the same way they would punish their enemies if they could get away with it.

Such people should NEVER be trusted with power, but sadly, the economic realities created by "Citizens United" grant them exactly the power they should NEVER have.

Second, I firmly believe that every organization and every individual has the right to inform others of their point of view and try to win others to their side of an issue. What makes me so uncomfortable about the entire approach of N.O.M. and similar organizations is that it goes far beyond information and deeply into manipulation - deeply into the effort to twist facts and increase the level of fears in others so that those others are encouraged to be afraid that disaster will occur if they do NOT come over to their side.

We ALL hate dishonest, manipulative people. We're likely to feel the same way about individuals and organizations which operate in the same way, once the dishonesty and manipulative nature of their underling approaches and agendas is revealed.