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Memos in NOM suit reveal anti-gay-marriage strategies

As Minnesota seeks disclosure of contributors, a National Organization for Marriage memo states, “One key advantage we now have is the capacity to protect the identity of our donors.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”