Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New National Organization for Marriage Watchdog Site Launches: NOM Exposed

I’ve blogged in recent days about the . . . remarkable . . . confluence of the political activities of the National Organization of Marriage in Minnesota right now with the political activities of the Minnesota bishops and Knights of Columbus.  As I’ve noted, NOM is openly campaigning for Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.  And, though the head of the Minnesota Catholic hierarchy Archbishop John Nienstedt has maintained that the anti-gay marriage videos he’s distributing, which were paid for by a donor who wishes to hide his/her identity have no political intent, these videos strongly echo NOM’s political ads for Emmer.  And the Catholic bishops of Minnesota have chosen to send these videos to all Catholic households in the state as the election nears.

Given the increasingly vocal partisan role that NOM seeks to play in American politics now, and the fact that, like the Minnesota bishops with their political anti-gay marriage video, NOM has characteristically refused to disclose the names of its funders, it’s important that those concerned about the future of American democracy monitor the activities of groups like NOM.  It’s important that we monitor these front groups for unnamed donors if we care about shielding our democratic institutions from attempts of powerful people hiding behind “religious” non-profits to buy and sell our democracy—without disclosing their identity or exposing to public scrutiny how they obtain and channel their money.

Because of my interest in monitoring the activities of NOM (and of Catholic bishops colluding with this powerful, secretive non-profit funded by donors whose names NOM refuses to disclose), I’m happy to note a new online resource for those tracking the National Organization for Marriage.  Yesterday, Courage Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign launched a new website called NOM Exposed (and here).

NOM Exposed is a treasure trove of resources for anyone studying how NOM works, and how it seeks to influence the political process in state after state.  The site provides histories of NOM’s key players, including founder and former president Maggie Gallagher, current president Brian Brown, and Robert P. George, influential right-wing Catholic ideologue and emeritus chair of NOM’s board.  The site notes NOM’s explosive growth in the past three years, with a budget that has skyrocketed from around $500,000 to $10 million in that time frame, as those funding NOM’s meteoric rise to power continue to remain largely hidden.

It also contains detailed information about NOM’s fierce litigation to shield its donors from public scrutiny.  NOM is involved in legal action right now in New York, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Hampshire, California, and Maine, as it combats the attempts of those states to seek to hold the organization accountable to state laws regarding disclosure of financial donors to political causes.

NOM Exposed also looks closely at the major religious contingents that have been NOM’s strongest supporters, as well as the source of some of NOM’s deep-pockets donors, insofar as these donors have become publicly known.  These include the Mormon community, the Catholic church (with its secretive and extremely rich international organization Opus Dei), and groups of evangelical Christians who also oppose gay rights and full inclusion of gays and lesbians in American culture.

As a Catholic, I’m especially interested in the Opus Dei connection (for the involvement of that organization in grooming and controlling media coverage of the recent papal visit to Britain, see my 19 September posting on the media’s behavior during Benedict’s British visit).  As NOM Exposed notes, emeritus chair Robert George and current board member Luis Tellez both provide points of contact between the wealthy secretive Catholic organization Opus Dei and NOM:

Opus Dei has funded several Robert George projects through back channels and donations between non-profit groups. According to Time magazine, Opus Dei has assets of $344 million in the US, and nearly $2.8 billion worldwide. Opus Dei claims to have 85,000 members worldwide but refuses to identify them unless they choose to self-identify, as NOM board member Luis Tellez freely does.

As the Daily Princetonian reported in 2005: “The money has sometimes taken a circuitous route. In 2002, a nonprofit with $50 million in assets called the Association for Cultural Interchange (ACI), which Tellez leads, received $40,000 in contributions from a Harvard alumnus and a Princeton alumnus. That money was then transferred, Tellez said, to another nonprofit called the Higher Education Initiatives Fund (HEIF), which in turn gave the money to the Madison Program [ which was founded by Robert George]. ACI mainly – though not exclusively – supports Opus Dei initiatives, Tellez said, adding that HEIF was created to support all kinds of scholarship and will close soon.”

As the new website launches, Newsweek has noticed what the site seeks to accomplish.  The Newsweek announcement of the launch of NOM Exposed quotes Michael Cole of HRC, who provides the following raison d’ĂȘtre for this site:

We want to out NOM for what it is—a secretive player in antigay politics, which is posing as an offshore company for antigay religious money,” says Michael Cole, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign.

An important goal, it seems to me, for anyone interested in understanding the threat to American democracy posed by quasi-religious groups fronting for hidden political operatives determined to buy our democratic institutions while refusing to show their faces.

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