Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Final Week of Maine Campaign: Continued Questions about NOM's Financial Involvement

The Beyond Chron website has a very good article today analyzing the financial record of the National Organization for Marriage in its battle to remove the right of marriage from Maine’s gay citizens. Paul Hogarth notes that there’s secrecy on both sides of NOM’s ledger in this Maine campaign. Not only has NOM shielded the identity of those providing the organization with funds to fight same-sex marriage in Maine, but big chunks of NOM’s pay-outs in the campaign have gone to a group whose identity is mysterious.

As Hogarth notes, NOM has financed 64% of the anti-gay marriage battle in Maine. Because it did not register as a political action committee with the Maine Ethics Commission, it hasn’t disclosed its funders in the Maine campaign. NOM has given $1.6 million to Yes on 1, the umbrella organization spearheading the attempt to overturn the right to same-sex marriage in the state.

And in this final week of the campaign, Hogarth reports, Yes on 1 is spending lavishly on new media ad buys—$550,738 in the past five days alone—though Yes on 1 is reporting at the same time that it has only $348,000 cash-on-hand funds and has incurred a campaign debt of $148,000. The sudden influx of money to buy expensive last-minute ads is raising questions about where Yes on 1 is getting these new funds.

Hogarth thinks it’s very likely NOM is the source of the money. And NOM continues to try to shield its donor base from public scrutiny, as I’ve noted on this blog, and has filed suit against the state to try to prevent any scrutiny of its records about its funders.

At the same time, NOM reports that 62% of its expenditures in the campaign—a total of $1.56 million—have gone to one organization, the San Francisco-based firm Criswell & Associates, which goes by the pseudonym Mar/Com Services Inc. (and which is not a registered corporation). NOM’s reports disguise the identity of Criswell & Associates by using the Mar/Com name, though the California Secretary of State’s office reports that no such corporation exists.

Up to mid-September, Criswell & Associates had a robust website, according to Hogarth. When bloggers began to note that Yes on 1 ads were being filmed in San Francisco—apparently by Criswell & Associates—the website went down and has been “under construction” ever since.

As Hogarth notes,

While it’s important to ask about the lack of transparency of the “Yes on 1” campaign’s funding source, it’s just as relevant to ask why they’re not being upfront about who is getting their money.

Indeed. Throughout this campaign, NOM has avoided transparency in every way possible—and that raises questions about why an organization that believes it’s fighting to preserve key ethical principles needs to do its work under cover of darkness. Morally upright groups don’t need to run into the shadows when people ask legitimate questions about who’s funding their causes.

Democracy thrives when transparency is the leitmotiv of political groups’ behavior. The behavior of NOM in the Maine campaign suggests that overturning democratic process is really what this crusade against same-sex marriage in Maine is all about.