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Anti-Gay Marriage Group Loses Appeal in Maine Case
10/01/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by an anti-gay marriage group that has aggressively challenged the constitutionality of Maine's election disclosure laws. The National Organization for Marriage invested nearly $2 million in a successful repeal effort of Maine's same-sex marriage law three years ago, but has so far refused the provide the state with a list of donors. And despite today's Supreme Court decision, the donor list is still under wraps because of a pending state investigation.

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Under Maine law, any group that raises more than $5,000 to influence a political campaign has to register with the state and and disclose its donors. But when NOM - the National Organization for Marriage - spent $1.9 million to help overturn Maine's same-sex marriage law in 2009, it refused to comply with the disclosure requirement.

When the Maine Ethics Commission launched an investigation, NOM filed two lawsuits, one claiming that Maine law violates free speech protections. John Eastman chairs NOM's board.

"Our concern here was an effort to broadly disclose, nationally, donors who have every right to be concerned about the disclosure of their support for a cause that leads people to be subjected to harrassment and other things," Eastman says.

The Supreme Court has declined to hear that case twice, which now lays the issue to rest. But Eastman sees a silver lining in the fact that the court even considered hearing the case.

"For some reason, they decided this wasn't the case or the time to take that issue up," Eastman says. "But they have clearly demonstrated an interest in the constitutional questions that were presented.

The decision paves the way for Maine to press NOM to hand over its donor list. But there's one more roadblock: Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, says his office is still investigating another issue in the dispute - whether or not NOM should have registered as a ballot question committee or PAC in 2009.

"Well it has to do with the actual facts of how NOM raised its money and spent its money to influence the 2009 referendum," Wayne says.

The Maine Ethics Commission has filed subpoenas to get those donor lists to aid their investigation, but the National Organization for Marriage has tried to block those subpoenas. Currently, that case is heading to the Maine Supreme Judicial court.

But Wayne says he believes that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision will help the investigation move forward. "The commission is in a stronger position to receive information confidentially concerning NOM's donors, and that will allow the commission to make a decision on whether or not it was required to register and file reports with us."

John Eastman from the National Organization for Marriage concedes that if enough of their 2009 donations qualify as influencing the Maine election - $5,000 or more - they will TRY to comply with Maine's laws. But he says he still finds disclosure requirements overly burdensome.

"Obviously these issues are important for people in Maine as well as around the country, and we ought to keep first in mind the ability of people to participate in a political process and express their views without having their businesses and families threatened, and I think that's ultimately what's at stake here."

But Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, says NOM is just trying to skirt the law.

"Our opponents love to try to play the victim card and turn this into us trying to get them to release names so we can harass people. That's absolutely not the case," McTighe says.

McTighe says what is at stake is making sure the National Organization for Marriage plays by the same rules as everyone else.


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