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Maine’s Gay Marriage Foes Must Reveal Donors

(CN) - The National Organization for Marriage must disclose its financial backers after donating $1.9 million in effort to wipe out gay-marriage rights in Maine, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby granted a summary judgment to uphold the state's campaign finance disclosure law, which requires groups that raise more than $5,000 in influencing state elections to disclose each donor that contributed at least $100.

The National Organization for Marriage, which challenged the state's legislation, says it was founded "to promote the importance of preserving marriage as the union of one husband and one wife" and "to advocate for policies that will preserve the historic definition of marriage and the natural family that springs therefrom."

It received help from the American Principles in Action, another nonprofit, in submitting a ballot question to the November 2009 electorate. In anticipation of the vote, NOM gave $1.9 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, a political action committee that promoted voting "yes" on Question 1, which asked voters to overturn same-sex marriage in Maine.

NOM touted itself as the largest contributor "to the Yes on 1 effort in Maine," according a newsletter sent to NOM members quoted in the court's Feb. 18 ruling.

The group also solicited $4,200 in donations from members in e-mails that called for a "fight to protect marriage in Iowa, Maine and everywhere across this great land."

As the election approached, Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate brought NOM's practices to the attention of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. He asked the commission to investigate whether NOM had violated Maine's campaign finance laws by contributing to Stand for Marriage Maine.

NOM contended that it should not have to disclose its donors, arguing that the legislation violates its rights to free speech and is vague as to what contributions fall under the reporting requirements. It also says that, as a ballot question committee, it is being unfairly subjected to rules applied to a political action committee, and reporting donors who contribute as little as $100 provides no benefit to voters.

Judge Hornby disagreed, stating that the legislation is constitutional and not overbroad.

Even in the case of $100 donations, the state has a "compelling" and "critical" interest to provide such information to voters, Hornby wrote.

The nonprofit filed lawsuits in Maine, New York, Florida and California in attempt to keep its donor information under wraps, Courthouse News reported in September 2010.

Last year the 1st Circuit ruled against NOM, ordering it to disclose donor information related to its effort to overturn a same-sex marriage law in Massachusetts.

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