Friday, October 2, 2009

Maine Ethics Commission Votes to Hear Money-Laundering Complaint Against NOM

This has been a newsworthy week, and as it ends, I want to update several stories about which I’ve blogged in the past. As I noted back in August, Californians Against Hate has filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission against the National Organization for Marriage, which is spearheading the campaign to roll back the right of same-sex marriage in Maine.

Californians Against Hate is charging NOM with money-laundering—with circumventing Maine’s campaign finance laws as it funnels money to Stand for Marriage Maine, the organization on the ground working to remove the right of marriage from Maine’s gay citizens. Californians Against Hate founder Fred Karger maintains that NOM is skirting Maine campaign laws by withholding the names of donors to its drive to repeal same-sex marriage in Maine, thus shielding the identity of individuals and groups underwriting this political initiative.

On 29 September, staff of the Maine Ethics Commission recommended that the Commission not investigate Karger’s complaint, citing insufficient evidence on the part of Californians Against Hate. Yesterday, however, the Commission met to hear both Karger and NOM’s director Brian Brown, and voted 3-2 to continue the investigation. Commissioners voting for the investigation stated that there were sufficient credible concerns in Kargers complaint to warrant a probe.

Pam Spaulding’s House Blend blog has been superb in its in-depth coverage of the situation in Maine, step by step. Yesterday, Louise of Louise’s Snack Bar blog posted at Pam’s site an interview with Fred Karger by Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV. This contains fascinating information about the nitty-gritty details of the process by which the Maine Ethics Commission chose to continue the investigation.

Several points struck me as I read this interview. The first is the deep-pockets legal firepower NOM has at its disposal. Karger has been fighting an uphill battle in seeking to open up NOM’s financial records. The gay community (and anyone who cares about transparency and accountability in faith-based non-profits, and about maintaining the church-state separation line) owes him a strong debt of gratitude for fighting against the odds in this case.

I’m struck, too, by the abundance of detailed information Fred Karger was able to produce on the spot, when Commission members grilled him about his reasons for maintaining that NOM is skirting Maine finance laws in its campaign to remove the right of marriage from Maine’s gay citizens. Karger submitted 79 emails NOM has sent out from the end of the prop 8 battle in California to the point he filed his complaint in Maine in August.

Karger has done his homework. It takes tenacity to stand up against a team of high-power lawyers with abundant funds at their disposal, and to do the research necessary to rebut their slippery claims. It takes courage to pursue something, knowing you are right, when social, institutional, and financial power is heavily stacked on the side of your opponent, no matter how much she/he is in the wrong.

Finally, I’m struck by the troubling lack of credibility—let’s be candid, the troubling lack of honesty—of NOM and Brian Brown. As I’ve noted, one of the difficulties confronting those trying to track NOM’s funding sources has been NOM’s refusal to disclose its latest IRS 990 statements—statements NOM is required by law to make public, and which NOM had not made public in the period required by law.

It appears NOM has now made both its 2007 and 2008 990 statements public. And when did that happen? The night before yesterday’s Maine Ethics Commission meeting. Karger reports that, when Brian Brown was asked by one of the Maine commissioners whether these tax statements were available, he responded, “Oh, we've always made these available. We've posted them on our website.”

The commissioner persisted. He asked, “When did you post these on your website?” Brown’s response, according to Karger: “I’m not sure.” But Karger and others tracking NOM’s activities knew the answer to the question: the documents had been uploaded to NOM’s website the night prior to the meeting.

Strange, is it not, that the director of a national organization would not know that his organization had uploaded these long-requested documents to its website in the middle of the night before a significant ethics hearing in a state in which it is working hard to remove a right from a targeted minority? Answers like Brown’s hardly conduce to establishing one’s credibility as an above-board political operative.

I learned one final bit of information from Karger’s interview that is extremely significant, in my view. The interview links to a recent article by reporter Danielle Truszkovsky at Latter-Day Chino, in which she reports on what seem to be very thick ties between NOM and the secretive, well-connected Catholic cult, Opus Dei.

Read Truszkovsky’s article, and see what you think—about the office NOM shares in Princeton, NJ, with the Witherspoon Institute, identified by the Opus Dei watchdog group ODAN as an affiliate of Opus Dei; about how Louis Tellez, who is on NOM’s board, is also president of the Witherspoon Institute and just happens to be as well an Opus Dei “numerary”; about how the Witherspoon Institute’s 2007 990s show it giving a grant to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, which happens to be headed by Maggie Gallagher, one of the driving forces of the battle to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine. And who sits with Tellez on the board of NOM.

Good investigative journalism on the part of Danielle Truszkovsky. It raises very serious questions, indeed, about the possibility that some religious groups are blatantly transgressing the line of church-state separation to try to force a state to adhere to their particular religious beliefs, under the guise of “protecting” marriage. And about the extent to which major donations from unspecified sources with quasi-religious roots fund initiatives to remove rights from targeted minorities in places like Maine.