Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Curioser and Curioser: Diocese of Maine Accused of Money Laundering in Battle Against Same-Sex Marriage

Well. That story from Maine’s Catholic diocese gets curioser and curioser.

Joe Sudbay has just announced on Americablog that Californians Against Hate has filed a formal complaint with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and the Maine Attorney General’s office, accusing four groups of money-laundering to hide the identity of donors funding the drive to overturn same-sex marriage in Maine.

Among the groups accused of money-laundering? The diocese of Portland, Maine.

Californians Against Hate was formed last year to track the flow of funds into California in the battle to remove the right of same-sex marriage for gay citizens of that state. The group has identified the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) as a front-group for the Mormon Church, through which LDS church funds are funneled into the battle against gay marriage. Californians Against Hate has filed complaints in California alleging that the Mormon financial contributions to the prop 8 campaign have been vastly under-reported by the LDS church. Investigation of these allegations is now underway.

As the complaint just filed in Maine maintains,

The four organizational donors that gave to Stand for Marriage Maine, with the possible exception of Focus on the Family, circumvented Maine’s campaign reporting law to avoid disclosure of the true contributors.

The four groups named in the complaint are the National Organization for Marriage, the diocese of Portland, Maine, the Knights of Columbus, and Focus on the Family. The Californians Against Hate complaint notes that, though the diocese of Portland gave $100,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine on 6 June, the diocesan’s 2008 financial report states that the diocesan savings account has only $10,812, and that the diocese lost $7.5 million in 2008 from the market’s downturn.

The diocese is closing churches and schools while claiming financial exigency, and its financial reports and media reports indicate that it has paid out millions of dollars in the past several years to settle claims of abuse of minors by priests. In July, Marc Mutty, a member of Stand for Marriage Maine’s executive committee and an employee of the Portland diocese on leave, reassured parishioners around the state who were concerned that the money the diocese donated to Stand for Marriage had come from church collection baskets.

Mutty stated that the money the diocese contributed to roll back the right of same-sex marriage in Maine is “dedicated revenues” that came from “a donor for causes such as these.” Unfortunately, Mutty said he had only “limited details regarding the origins of the donation.”

Californians Against Hate’s complaint includes excerpts from letters and emails the National Organization for Marriage has used in soliciting funds for the campaign to roll back the right of same-sex marriage in Maine. These state,

“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.”

“Donations to NOM are not tax-deductible and they are NOT public information, either.”

“Your gift is confidential: no public disclosure!"

Californians Against Hate’s complaint notes that, curiously, the mid-July financial filing of Stand for Marriage Maine shows only four individual donors to the organization and the battle to remove the right of marriage from gay persons in Maine. Only $400 of $343,689.50 in donations listed by Stand for Marriage as of 15 July came from individual donors.

As Wikipedia’s article about money-laundering says,

Money laundering is the practice of disguising illegally obtained funds so that they seem legal. It is a crime in many jurisdictions with varying definitions. . . . In US law it is the practice of engaging in financial transactions to conceal the identity, source, or destination of illegally gained money. . . . In the past, the term "money laundering" was applied only to financial transactions related to organized crime.

I’m puzzled. If removing the right of marriage from same-sex couples is such a noble ethical objective, why on earth would anyone want to hide his or her identity in giving money to support that noble cause? And why the need to skirt laws governing transparency about the use of money—particularly by churches—to pursue political goals? Why the need to engage in behavior that strikes some folks as flirting with sordid criminality?

When churches begin to appear to the public as something close to crime syndicates, they make it exceedingly hard for people to listen respectfully to their ethical teachings. Especially when those teachings encourage us to be upright and honest in all of our dealings, to live our lives in the light of day, and to do to others what we would have done to ourselves.