Transparency rules

Thanks to the Maine Supreme Court, transparency rules the day. The standoff between the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Maine Ethics Commission over whether the organization must disclose its donor list, in connection with its support of a people’s veto of Maine’s first same-sex marriage law, has been resolved.

This week, NOM finally produced that donor list. While repeatedly touting its grassroots support during the campaign, the group’s funding came from just six donors. Only one, Richard Kurtz of Cape Elizabeth who gave $50,000, was from Maine. Sean Fieler of the anti-gay Chiaroscuro Foundation in New York alone donated $1.2 million.

With the ever-increasing influence of money in elections – both in Maine and across the nation – the need for citizens and voters to know the sources of that money grows. NOM reportedly provided more than $2 million – 64 percent of the spending by a political action committee called Stand for Marriage Maine – in the successful repeal effort of the same-sex marriage law enacted by the Maine Legislature in 2009. The law was reinstated by referendum vote in 2012.

The court rightly rejected the argument by NOM that its donors were supporting the organization’s general principles and not the Maine referendum. Under Maine law, any group that spends more than $5,000 to influence a state referendum must register as a ballot question committee and reveal the identities of its donors. After the Ethics Commission determined in 2014 that NOM was subject to that law, the organization paid a record-breaking fine of $50,250 and registered as a ballot question committee. But it did so “under protest,” continuing to refuse to reveal its donors, while petitioning our Supreme Court for a stay of the commission’s decision.

In its Aug. 4 ruling, the court said, “We conclude that, because there clearly is no substantial possibility that NOM will succeed on the merits of its claims, a stay is not warranted under applicable principles of law and equity. The circumstances underlying the commission’s decision occurred almost six years ago, and the decision has successfully withstood federal and state court challenges during that time. NOM now asks us to decide many of the same issues and has failed to sufficiently show that it has a likelihood of succeeding on the merits. Accordingly, we deny NOM’s motion for a stay pending appeal.”

Mainers have a right to know who is spending enormous sums of money to influence changes in the laws of our state. Thanks to the court’s ruling, residents now know the truth about the handful of wealthy, mostly out-of-state individuals who were behind a major effort to overturn the majority will of Maine people.

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