Donor disclosure fights could test N.C. laws

N.C. laws require disclosure but similar laws challenged elsewhere

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: December 3, 2011 in News

CHARLOTTE — The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a national anti-gay organization enlisted to support a new anti-LGBT amendment referendum committee on Thursday, is raising eyebrows in the Carolinas and nationwide. Its past challenges to several states’ financial disclosure laws is prompting concern on whether similar challenges will be issued in North Carolina.

The group is one of several founding partners of the new Vote for Marriage NC referendum committee. Led by the N.C. Values Coalition and longtime anti-gay lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald, the committee also includes support from the N.C. Baptist State Convention, the Christian Action League and an unnamed coalition of African-American pastors. Together, the groups will work to pass an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment banning recognition of marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples and some opposite-sex couples.

NOM has become infamous among LGBT activists, bloggers and strategists for its involvement in anti-gay marriage campaigns across the country, most notably California’s 2008 Proposition 8 and Maine’s 2009 Question 1. The group has also been involved in campaigns in Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island.

In each of the states where they’ve been active, NOM has sought to keep the identities of its donors and supporters secret.

The laws challenged by the group are similar in nature to those in place in North Carolina. Though state referendum committees here can collect unlimited contributions from individuals, businesses and other organizations, donations totaling $50 or more must be disclosed with the donors name, address and occupational information.

NOM has lost each of their legal challenges submitted in other states.

Coming Monday…
Be sure to check back here at goqnotes.com on Monday for in-depth look at the National Organization for Marriage’s past exploits across the country and their potential strategies here in North Carolina.

In November, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from the NOM-affiliated Protect Marriage Washington to withhold the names of its petition signers.

In August, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling applying Rhode Island’s election laws and disclosure requirements to NOM’s campaign spending in 2010.

In Minnesota, which also faces an anti-LGBT amendment threat this year, NOM and its affiliates sought to keep the names of their contributors confidential. In July, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board rejected their request.

NOM also attempted to flout election laws in Maine, where the state elections board said the group could be required to disclose its donors. NOM sued in federal court this year, lost and appealed to the 1st Circuit, which rejected NOM’s case in August.

Last year, NOM sought relief from a Buffalo, N.Y., federal judge to overturn a state law there that would have required it to form a political action committee and thereby disclose its donors. The suit was dismissed by the court.

Despite NOM’s losing track record, South Carolina blogger and anti-gay watchdog Alvin McEwen told qnotes he expects the group will continue its legal challenges here.

Victimization forms the crux of the group’s arguments, McEwen said.

“I expect them to deflect attention on how they are supposedly being labeled  ’unfairly’ of course as ‘bigots’ simply because they supposedly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “[I] expect them to shift the argument to make it seem that gays are the aggressors.”

NOM’s several legal challenges have included an insistence that disclosure of contributor and supporter identities will lead to harassment.

One incident cited by NOM among the “countless reports of threats, harassment, and reprisals” against anti-gay donors was a 2008 Sacramento ice cream parlor that had donated thousands of dollars in support of California’s Proposition 8. According to Huffington Post writer Amanda Terkel, LGBT activists stood outside of the business, provided customers free rainbow sherbert and held signs reading “I love rainbow sherbert” and “It’s a rocky road to equality.”

In November, U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England Jr. ruled NOM’s “limited evidence is simply insufficient” to support their harassment claims.

“Plaintiffs do not, indeed cannot, allege that the movement to recognize marriage in California as existing only between a man and a woman is vulnerable to the same threats as were socialist and communist groups, or, for that matter, the NAACP,” England wrote, according to ThinkProgress. “Plaintiffs’ exemption argument appears to be premised, in large part, on the concept that individuals should be free from even legal consequences of their speech. That is simply not the nature of their right. Just as contributors to Proposition 8 are free to speak in favor of the initiative, so are opponents free to express their disagreement through proper legal means.”

England added, “Plaintiffs’ contributors’ names were actually disclosed years ago and yet Plaintiffs have produced almost no evidence of any ramifications suffered in the almost three years post-disclosure.”