(CN) – The 1st Circuit upheld a Maine law that could force “marriage rights” organizations to identify donors who contributed $1.8 million toward fighting gay marriage.
This is the second time the Boston-based federal appeals court has rejected the claim put forward by the National Organization for Marriage. The group first challenged the state law as it pertained to political action committees backing individual candidates, then it challenged the law’s applicability to ballot action committees or BQCs.
Joined in the latest by American Principles in Action, the groups fought Maine registration and disclosure requirements on entities that finance election-related advocacy. They characterized the requirements as overly broad, in violation of the First and 14th Amendments.
The law requires groups that spend more than $5,000 for the purpose of initiating or influencing a referendum to disclose the names of donors who contributed $100 or more to the effort.
Maine legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, but a public referendum overturned the law later that that year. Maine is now the only state in New England that does not allow gay marriage.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage reportedly steered hundreds of thousands of dollars to a group called Stand for Marriage in Maine.
In rejecting the latest challenge to Maine’s law, Judge Kermit Victor Lipez noted the court “effectively disposed of most of the appellant’s challenges to Maine’s BQC requirements” with its earlier decision.
Both decisions have affirmed the findings of U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, who said the BQC registration and reporting requirements are not unconstitutionally burdensome. He also held that such measures are justified by the state’s compelling interest in providing important information to Maine voters about the interest groups that are attempting to influence the outcome of a ballot question.
The definition of “contribution” – a key component of the latest challenge to the law — was neither vague nor overbroad, Hornby said. Also, the $100 reporting threshold is “substantially related to Maine’s compelling interest in informing voters and narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary impositions on associated rights.”
Like Maine’s PAC laws, the section of the law now at issue impose “three simple obligations” on BQCs: filing of a registration form disclosing basic information, quarterly reporting of election-related contributions and expenditures, and simple recordkeeping,” Lipez said, quoting the lower court.
“No less in candidate elections, citizens evaluating ballot questions must rely ever more on a message’s source as a proxy for reliability and a barometer of political spin,” he continued.
Lipez also went on to quote the late Washington Post columnist David Broder, from his “Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money.”
“Even more than candidate elections, initiative campaigns have become a money game, where average citizens are subjected to advertising blitzes o distortion and half-truths and are left to figure out for themselves which interest groups pose the greatest threats to their self interest,” Broder wrote.
Citing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Lipez found that “the disclosure of information about the source of political-advocacy funds thus enables the electorate to make informed decisions.”
In challenging the state law, “appellants have demonstrated no circumstance in which the statute failed to provide them fair warning of its reach,” the Jan. 31 decision states. “Hence, we reject their due process vagueness claim.”
“The provision’s $100 reporting threshold is narrowly tailored to meet Maine’s compelling interest in an informed electorate,” he concluded. “The statute is not overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.”
A lawyer for the groups vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, calling it unfair to hold advocacy groups to the same disclosure requirements as political action committees.
“The homosexual lobby has launched a nationwide campaign to harass supporters of traditional marriage,” attorney James Bopp Jr. told Reuters. “When they disclose who they are they can reasonably expect to be harassed.”
This past November, the Supreme Court upheld similar requirements against groups that fought gay marriage in Washington state.