With NOM money, Maine PAC that fought marriage equality in ’09 prepares for possible ’12 referendum

Though a 2012 referendum to reverse Maine’s 2009 same-sex-marriage repeal is not yet official, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has already contributed approximately $32,000 to the Stand for Marriage Maine Political Action Committee (PAC), according to a campaign disclosure report filed last month.

Stand for Marriage Maine PAC led the successful campaign to repeal gay marriage legalization in Maine in 2009 by popular vote in a People’s Veto.

Both sides of the Maine marriage campaign are beginning to prepare for a potential referendum in 2012; yet questions linger surrounding donor identities in the 2009 campaign, particularly for the side that supported “Question 1,” which repealed same-sex marriage.

Question 1 opponents, led by EqualityMaine, raised approximately $5.7 million from more than 10,000 donors, 12 times more individual donors than the winning side, which raised approximately $3.4 million from a handful of churches and conservative Christian organizations, according to a November 2009 report (PDF) released by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The largest chunks of donations that went to the repeal effort came from NOM ($1.9 million), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland ($500,000) and Focus on the Family Maine Marriage Committee ($114,000).

The American Independent recently reported that NOM is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices over whether or not NOM should have registered with the state and formed a ballot question committee — which means disclosing expenditures and contributions. That case is pending in the First Circuit Court. And last week, the United States Court of Appeals First Circuit ruled against NOM in an appeal that Maine’s election laws were unconstitutional. Thus, the investigation into NOM’s fundraising is presently stalled, and many of the names and organizations of those who donated money to defeating marriage equality in Maine are still unknown.

Openly gay political consultant and GOP presidential contender Fred Karger sparked the NOM investigation, having made it his ongoing project to follow NOM’s campaign money since the organization’s anti-same-sex-marriage campaign efforts in California in 2008. But it is straight, married activist Paul Kendrick who made it his mission to follow the actions of the Portland diocese. What immediately sparked his interest into the “Yes on 1″ campaign of 2009 was the fact that money was coming out of the Roman Catholic Portland Diocese, but there were very few individual contributions from church leaders.

“There are about 700 priests, nuns and deacons in the diocese, yet only four names appear on the reporting,” Kendrick recently told TAI from his home in Freeport, Maine. “What can we surmise? Can we surmise that what Bishop [Richard Joseph] Malone did, priests and deacons don’t support this? Did they all donate $49 dollars? … [Catholic leaders] were advertising themselves as followers of God but didn’t have the guts to stand publicly for their convictions,” Kendrick said.

The Stand for Marriage Maine PAC was run by Portland diocese public affairs director Marc Mutty, who took a leave of absence from the diocese to run the campaign. Mutty told TAI that, to his knowledge, the church followed all campaign-finance rules with regard to its contributions to the SMM PAC. He said that any contributions made without a name attached to them came from plate collections. Fallout criticisms about how and how much the diocese donated were based on general disapproval that the diocese participated in the political campaign, Mutty said.

“We don’t operate based on public opinion,” he said. “We operate based on what is the right thing to do. Public sentiment is not so much an issue.”

Quarterly campaign-finance disclosure reports from 2009 available on the Maine ethics commission’s website reveal several names of religious figures from across the country who donated more than $50 (the donating amount at which point an individual’s name must be disclosed, according to Maine’s election laws) to the SMM PAC; however, individual names from the Portland diocese are scarce. For the reporting period between July 6 and Sept. 30, 2009, only Father Paul Marquis of the Portland diocese is listed as having contributed $100. During that reporting period, the Portland diocese reportedly contributed about $345,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine in 16 payments, ranging from $200 to $149,300.

Aside from monetary and staff contributions, the Portland diocese has been painted as having had significant influence on the results of the 2009 campaign.

In a National Catholic Register article titled “Marriage Victory in Maine,” from November 2009, Joan Frawley Desmond laid out how the church wielded its influence.

The defeat of same-sex “marriage” at the polls in Maine Nov. 3 suggests that Portland Bishop Richard Malone’s “commonsense” message resonated with the state’s relatively secular voters.

[…]

Testifying before the state’s legislature in August, Bishop Malone described same-sex “marriage” as “a dangerous sociological experiment that I believe will have negative consequences for society as a whole. … Children will be taught in schools that same-sex ‘marriage’ and traditional marriage are simply different expressions of the same thing, and that the logical and consistent understanding that marriage and reproduction are intrinsically linked is no longer valid”

Mutty said he’s not sure what type of role the diocese will play in a future marriage equality campaign, if marriage equality advocates are able to collect the required 80,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot in 2012. Mutty’s currently drafting recommendations to the bishop as to how much money the diocese could potentially donate and if staff members should participate.

“This is a very difficult time financially for most people,” he said. “The diocese is certainly experiencing difficulties in this economy.”

Regardless of how the church might be involved next year, Mutty told TAI he will not be running the campaign as he did in 2009, saying the campaign was “extremely taxing on my health, psyche and family.”

Future fight over marriage in Maine

In August 2009, when Karger initially asked the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices to investigate the campaign-fundraising activities of the organizations that helped end same-sex marriage in Maine, he accused Stand for Marriage Maine of being a “front” for NOM, an accusation that was rejected by both organizations at the time.

Presently, however, it appears that NOM is maintaining control over the SMM PAC.

Asked who will be chairing Stand for Marriage Maine in a potential referendum campaign next year, former SMM PAC treasurer Joseph A. Keaney told TAI to ask Brian Brown, NOM’s president and SMM board member.

“[NOM] contributed the most to Stand for Marriage Maine, by far –- almost $2 million,” Keaney said.

Keaney has been listed as SMM’s treasurer on every campaign disclosure report filed between Sept. 2009, when Stand for Marriage Maine initially registered as a PAC, and the most recent report, filed July 2011. Yet the Portland, Maine-based certified public accountant said he is not sure he will continue as the PAC treasurer if a referendum moves forward. First off, he said he has not been asked yet. If he is asked to participate in the campaign, he said, it will depend on what arrangements are made, noting that he was paid for his work on the first campaign.

Brown did not immediately return TAI’s request for comment.

The EqualityMaine PAC is representing the preliminary efforts of a potential campaign to restore marriage equality in Maine next year by putting a voter referendum on the ballot. Thus far, EqualityMaine has only filed $25 in campaign contributions for 2011. Stand for Marriage Maine on the other hand has filed a $32,411 contribution from NOM and a $25 contribution from an unknown source so far this year.

EqualityMaine spokesperson Timothy Rose remains confident that his organization will be able to gather the requisite 80,000 signatures to put the question –- currently phrased as, “Do you support marriage licenses for same sex couples while protecting religious freedom?” — on the ballot. Currently, the question language is in for review with the secretary of state, but Rose said the group hopes to begin the process of collecting signatures this week.

Rose said that what marriage equality advocates in Maine learned from their failure in 2009 was that it is impossible to change hearts and minds during a campaign. Instead, EqualityMaine has been working to change hearts and minds before a potential 2012 campaign, by talking one-and-one to voters. Rose said that two independent polls conducted in 2009 and 2011 show that Maine citizens support legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples by 53 percent.

“[We] made a commitment to the LGBT community that we wouldn’t bring the question up again until we were statistically certain [it can pass],” Rose said.

What’s critical, he said, is to make sure identified marriage equality supporters make it to the ballot box. Having the referendum during an election year will help in that effort, he said.