Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Iowa, Then Maine Ethics Board Sends NOM Warnings of Campaign Violations

First Iowa. Then Maine. All in the same day!

Poor Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) didn't have time to enjoy the amazingly inept, shoddy, biased, laughable, high school level journalism of this Washington Post piece because both Iowa and Maine Ethic Boards sent him warnings Friday of possible violations and consequentially, investigation.

Read UTF's post on Iowa

As for Maine, here's the Board's letter sent to NOM in response to Fred Karger's of Californians Against Hate claims.
By E-Mail and Federal Express
Joseph A. Keaney, Treasurer
Stand for Marriage Maine PAC
One Monument Way, Second Floor
Portland, Maine 04101

By E-Mail and Federal Express
Brian S. Brown, Executive Director
National Organization for Marriage
20 Nassau Street, Suite 242
Princeton, NJ 08542


Dear Sirs:

On August 13 and 24, 2009, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices received correspondence via email from Fred Karger of Californians against Hate alleging that the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC and some of its contributors have violated the campaign finance laws of the State of Maine. He requests that the Commission investigate whether the violations have occurred. I have enclosed his requests, along with my August 14 memo to Mr. Karger asking him to provide more specific information in support of his request.

As explained below, the Commission is statutorily required to consider Mr. Karger's request. The Commission will consider the request at its meeting on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. The meeting will be held in Room 208 of the Burton M. Cross Office Building, 111 Sewall Street in Augusta. At that meeting, I anticipate that the Commissioners will decide whether to conduct any investigation regarding the compliance issues listed below.

Your Opportunity to Respond to Mr. Karger's Request

The Commission would welcome written responses from the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC and the National Organization for Marriage no later than Thursday, September 17, 2009 concerning whether the Commission should conduct an investigation. You are welcome to attend the meeting to comment to the Commission in person and to answer questions. This is a regular meeting, not a formal hearing.

Commission's Standards for Requests for Investigation

Under 21-A M.R.S.A. § 1003(2), a person may apply to the Commission to investigate a PAC's reporting of campaign finance activity. Under this provision, the Commission "shall review the application and shall make the investigation if the reasons stated for the request show sufficient grounds for believing that a violation may have occurred."

Compliance Issues Raised by Fred Karger's Request

Mr. Karger does not specify which provisions of Maine's campaign finance laws were violated by the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC or its contributors. To assist the Commission in deciding whether to conduct any investigation, the Commission staff has identified the following compliance issues that are implicated by Mr. Karger's factual allegations. By discussing these legal issues, the staff does not mean to imply at this time that any investigation is merited.

Stand for Marriage Maine PAC

All PACs are required to report the names and addresses of contributors who have given more than $50 to the PAC. (21-A M.R.S.A. § 1060(6))

In addition, under 21-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1004(3) and 1004-A(3), it is illegal for a PAC to knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person.

Mr. Karger alleges that "the four funders of Stand for Marriage Maine are merely conduits for those wishing to hide their contributions. These entities are laundering money to evade the disclosure of the actual contributors to Stand for Marriage Maine." (Aug. 24, 2009 letter, at 1) If true, these allegations might constitute violations of 21-A M.R.S.A. § 1060(6), 1004(3) and 1004-A(3).

National Organization for Marriage

Mr. Karger alleges that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has raised funds for the purpose of initiating or promoting the people's veto referendum to repeal P.L. 2009, Ch. 82, and has donated those funds to the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC. His allegations, if true, may indicate that NOM was required to file campaign finance reports with the Commission as a ballot question committee under 21-A M.R.S.A. § 1056-B or was required to register and file reports as a PAC under 21-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1052(5)(A), 1053, and 1058.

Mr. Karger points to a few factual circumstances which could be relevant to whether a violation has occurred: • NOM is a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization that is roughly two years old. Based on the information that is presently available to the Commission staff, it appears that NOM has contributed at least $250,000 to the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC. This is a large amount of funding, which could suggest that NOM solicited and received funds for the purpose of initiating the referendum.

• In 2008, NOM formed a committee in California to raise and spend money in support of an amendment to the California State Constitution (Proposition 8) stating that only marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized by the California state government. According to the California Secretary of State, NOM's California committee raised $1,870,134 and contributed $1,561,134 to a larger PAC supporting Proposition 8. So, NOM has demonstrated the capability to raise a significant amount of funds to support a referendum on same sex marriage.

• Mr. Karger has provided the Commission with some fundraising solicitations from NOM stating to potential donors that the funds would be used to oppose the legalization of same sex marriage in New England. The two most relevant are the communications dated March 13 and 31, 2009, which mention Maine specifically.

The March 31st communication refers to "a hard-hitting new radio ad that we're launching today as part of our 2009 Northeast Action Plan ..." and makes the following solicitation: "We're excited about this new ad, but we need your help to keep these ads on the air, especially in states like Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New Jersey, where coordinated grassroots opposition to pending gay marriage legislation is urgently needed."

The ad was apparently intended to run while the marriage legislation was under consideration by the Maine Legislature (March or April 2009). Nevertheless, the solicitation does seem to look forward to more communications to voters later in the year: "Throughout the year, we'll be rolling out new ads as we work to identify and motivate marriage activists throughout the Northeast." (italics added) This could easily be a reference to communications to voters in support of a referendum petition drive in Maine, which was actively discussed during the 2009 legislative session.

• As Mr. Karger has noted, the March 2009 solicitations from NOM promise its donors anonymity: "[P]lease make the most generous donation you can to help us keep these important ads on the air. Use this hyperlink to make a secure online donation. And unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM's Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from gay marriage protestors."

Because of these factual considerations, the staff of the Maine Ethics Commission would welcome a written response by NOM regarding whether there are sufficient grounds to warrant a Commission investigation or fact-finding to determine if NOM was required to file campaign finance reports as a ballot question committee under 21-A M.R.S.A. § 1056-B or to register and file reports as a PAC under 21-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1052(5)(A), 1053, and 1058.

Other Contributors

Mr. Karger has alleged that three other contributors to the Stand for Marriage Maine PAC "laundered money." Because the information provided with regard to these contributors is less specific, the Commission staff is not inviting responses from them. Nevertheless, they are copied on this letter so that they are aware of this matter and have an opportunity to submit comments if they wish.

Thank you for considering this invitation. If you have any questions, please feel free to telephone me at (207) 287-4179 or the Commission's Counsel, Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner, at (207) 626-8830.


Jonathan Wayne
Executive Director
So, Mr. Brown, are you going to get your PR machine at the Washington Post to write you out of this one?

I wait with baited breath.

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