NOM ramps up spending, support in 2012 presidential race

Considering the National Organization for Marriage's consistent involvement in federal elections over the past few years, it may come as a surprise to some that the group does not operate a federal political action committee (though it has formed several state PACs). Instead, NOM participates in federal elections by regularly filing "independent expenditures," which allows the nonprofit to spend unlimited amounts of money on political ads without revealing the source of its campaign contributions.

Leading up to the one-year anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (PDF) -- the Supreme Court decision that transformed the practice of campaign financing by giving corporations and labor unions the same First Amendment rights as individuals -- critics of the ruling have been more closely scrutinizing the corporations freely injecting money into political races. And NOM's political spending has the attention of the Human Rights Campaign and other groups that hound its activities.

NOM's electioneering 

As of Jan. 9, NOM's 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation has made $131,260.34 worth of independent expenditures in the 2012 presidential race, according to campaign-finance disclosure reports published by the Federal Election Commission. (It should be noted that the FEC designates the National Organization for Marriage as a "person or group, not a committee"; thus it is permitted to make independent expenditures, unlike corporations or labor groups.)

According to NOM's disclosure reports, most of its money has been spent on TV and Web advertisements attacking Ron Paul for not pledging to support an amendment to the federal constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.

What NOM is forbidden from doing, according to the FEC, is making an independent expenditure that is "made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party or its agents."

At this point, neither NOM nor its president, Brian Brown, has explicitly endorsed a presidential candidate; however, in December, Brown was spotted at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Newt Gingrich.

But last week, Maggie Gallagher, who stepped down as NOM chair late last year but stayed on to work on NOM's side projects, announced her endorsement for Rick Santorum, who over the weekend won the support of many of the country's most influential religious right groups. Both Gallagher and Brown attended the Brenham, Texas, meeting.

Gallagher elaborated on her Santorum endorsement -- and rejection of Gingrich -- on Tuesday, writing at a new website called the Culture War Victory Fund. (The site is presented as Gallagher's blog, but the Web domain is registered to the group American Principles in Action, which has elicited inquiry from the FEC for not disclosing contributors and does not disclose its board members or financial information online.)

"To rally behind Newt Gingrich over the nation’s most prominent (and therefore most-hated) social conservative elected official — would be to commit suicide as a movement," Gallagher writes. I cannot promise you that Rick Santorum can fight his way to victory for the GOP nomination. I can promise you, he is the best chance social conservatives have to demonstrate that we — and our issues — matter."

Gallagher ends her post asking readers, not explicitly to donate to Santorum's campaign but to "go to to thank Rick Santorum for standing up for life, marriage and religious liberty."

This weekend NOM is co-sponsoring the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Charleston, S.C., along with conservative groups like the National Rifle Association, FreedomWorks, Citizens United and The Washington Times, but also Facebook and Google.

NOM's money

After The American Independent reported that NOM received the majority of the money it raised in 2010 from just two anonymous sources, Darrin Hurwitz, assistant general counsel to HRC, which also runs the NOM watchdog site NOM Exposed, speculated that NOM's not having a PAC is an indication of its lack of grassroots support.

From Nom Exposed:

[I]t perhaps comes as a surprise that NOM – a $9 million organization that boasts of its electoral muscle and that relocated its headquarters to Washington two years ago – doesn’t have a federal PAC and has never had one. Or that in four years NOM has never contributed one cent to a federal candidate. Indeed, it’s highly unusual for an advocacy organization of NOM’s size – especially one that prides itself on its electoral work – not to have a PAC. Why would an organization with an expressed interest in federal issues like the Defense of Marriage Act not support federal candidates? [...]

Advocacy organization PACs raise their funds from a broad base of supporters whose individual contributions are capped by law at $5,000 per year. These donors are publicly disclosed on reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. NOM doesn’t have enough members to raise funds for an effective PAC, and just as importantly it doesn’t believe in the transparency that PACs must show.

Just before 2011 came to a close, TAI reported that NOM was soliciting supporters for money to close a "looming shortfall." This past weekend, NOM's president sent supporters a thank-you email, indicating that the organization raised $995,339.85, thanks to a "very generous donor" who, according to Brown, gave NOM three months to raise up to $1 million and the donor would match the money.

TAI has pointed out that, in 2010, NOM reported raising only 8 percent of its revenue from single donations below $5,000. Two-thirds of the money NOM reported raising from donors -- more than $6 million -- came from just two sources. The previous year, NOM’s contributions above $5,000 made up about 78 percent of all the contributions received, according to the group's own financial reporting. And yet, Brown is still insisting that NOM comprises millions of supporters.

"The cause of marriage will win out in the end in no small part due to you and millions of Americans just like you," he writes. "I am honored to be your representative in the fight to defend marriage."

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/AMagill