NOM sues for protection from campaign disclosure laws
Imagine Ted Olson, the champion against a California law banning same-sex marriage, teaming up with attorneys who want to enable unlimited amounts of money to be spent to promote bans on same-sex marriage.
It’s not that great a stretch: Olson argued the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case led to the very controversial 5 to 4 decision in January that said corporations had a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections and without disclosing that spending to the public.
James Bopp, who was the lead counsel for Citizens United group, is now seeking to extend that ruling — beyond corporations and to groups such as National Organization for Marriage.
Bopp is now the lead attorney on at least 11 federal lawsuits seeking to strike down state limits on campaign spending and requirements for disclosure as those apply to membership groups. Four of those involve the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) as the plaintiff, and a fifth involves an anti-gay political action committee in Washington State. The other six involve anti-abortion groups as plaintiffs.
Three of the 11 lawsuits are already before federal appeals courts –in the 1st, 8th, and 9th Circuits.
Asked if he could imagine arguing for the right of anti-gay groups to spend unlimited and undisclosed money to promote the banning of same-sex marriage, Olson said no.
“Arguing against the rights of gay citizens, I can’t imagine doing that,” said Olson.
Bopp could argue the case himself. In April, he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Doe v. Reed, seeking to stop the public disclosure of public records identifying citizens who signed petitions to put an anti-gay measure on the ballot. In an 8 to 1 decision in June, the high court ruled against him, saying a state law’s requirement that the names and addresses of petition signers be available to the public does not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The NOM lawsuits, such as the most recent one, filed September 21 in the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, argue that state-imposed limits on campaign spending burden the group’s right to free speech to express its support for and opposition to certain candidates in state races.
The Rhode Island lawsuit, NOM v. Daluz, asks Judge Mary Lisi (a Clinton appointee) to issue an injunction to prevent state Board of Elections Chairman John Daluz and the board from forcing NOM to comply with state campaign laws for the upcoming November elections for governor and General Assembly. NOM’s complaint indicates it wishes to sponsor radio and television ads, send out direct mail pieces, and make Internet postings of its position on various candidates.
The Providence Journal, a local daily newspaper, says the chief beneficiary of NOM’s activities would likely be the Republican candidate for governor, John Robitaille, who is the only one of four gubernatorial candidates who is opposed to same-sex marriage. The Journal says NOM hopes to saturate the Rhode Island market with the “I can marry a princess” ad that worked so well for Proposition 8 supporters in California.
According to the national Freedom to Marry group, Rhode Island does not license marriages of same-sex couples but does recognize marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by other states. Bills to legalize and to ban same-sex marriage in the state are pending in the General Assembly.
Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, says NOM’s real reason for wanting to ignore state campaign finance laws is motivated by its primary function: “laundering money funneled from sources that don’t want to be exposed.”
LGBT activists have accused NOM, in a number of states, of spending money on behalf of the Mormon Church and others to promote passage of anti-gay marriage initiatives. Californians Against Hate has been questioning NOM’s compliance with state laws around Proposition 8 in California and a similar ballot repeal measure, Question 1, in Maine in 2008.
The Human Rights Campaign this week launched nomexposed.org, to document NOM’s “deep anti-gay affiliations, its long connections to the Mormon and Catholic church hierarchy and its quest to keep voters in the dark about its financing.”
The four lawsuits in which NOM is the plaintiff are Rhode Island, New York, Florida, and California. Family PAC is the plaintiff in Washington State. And state “Right to Life” groups are the plaintiff in Minnesota, Maine, South Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Vermont.