Alex Blaze

NOM's financial transparency challenges are about more than marriage

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 25, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

The Washington Post recently profiled a few of NOM campaign finance challengespitchforks-and-torches-268x300.jpg in a few states. NOM's main activity, it seems, is to challenge disclosure law arguing that the radical homosexual activists are going to hunt down their donors and strangle them with pink feather boas. Here's a part:

"This case is not about marriage," New York NOM attorney Randy Elf told U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara in Buffalo. "Instead, it's about free speech."

Outside the courtroom, Elf said his arguments could apply to any organization, including ones that advocate same-sex marriage. Under New York election law, he said, any organization that spends $1,000 on express advocacy is considered a political committee and is subject to cumbersome reporting requirements.

"This case isn't about disclosing donors. The challenge is whether it's constitutional to regulate organizations as full-fledged political committees," he said.[...]

In Rhode Island, Judge Mary Lisi said that since NOM does not plan to work in concert with a particular candidate or party, its ads are properly classified as "independent expenditures" under state law. There's no limit or ban on such expenditures, and the only requirement is a simple form requiring a group that plans to spend more than $100 to list the date, amount and purpose of the expense.

"It informs the populace, the voting public, as to who you are," Lisi said, later adding that she did not consider the expenditure requirement onerous.

They're trying to loosen laws for groups that don't organize with candidates but advocate people vote for or against someone anyway? Why does that sound familiar?

The controversy over MN Forward earlier this year, the Minnesota conservative advocacy group that was at the center of the "Target donates to homophobes" fracas, revolved largely around the unlimited corporate (and individual) donations the group could take and the amount of money it could spend advocating for candidates, so long as it didn't actually coordinate with the campaign itself. It's a laughable distinction, since any loss of energy from the messaging being slightly off is made up for by the millions of dollars that can be dumped into local elections. All of this happened after Citizens United, which opened up such organizations to unlimited donations from corporations.

But what made it a controversy in Minnesota was that MN Forward had to disclose the fact that Target donated. If they didn't disclose, no one would have known that the donation had happened.

Rich people who are giving money to candidates for the express purpose of destroying public sector jobs, ending state aide for housing, and taking away money from public schools don't want people to know about their activities. They worry about boycotts and being called names and, if the American public understood how they're getting screwed, pitchforks and torches.

This article from Politico today provides another example about the conservative American Crossroads, an organization that campaigns for candidates but doesn't coordinate with the campaigns. It was in the news as Gold's Gym's CEO donated $2 million to the organization, which was co-founded by Karl Rove. They thought they'd try transparency, but they turned their backs on that value in a couple weeks when the rich donors told them to:

Early this year, when an elite team of GOP operatives rolled out plans for the group and a linked network of other independent conservative organizations, they enthusiastically embraced the idea of public disclosure of donors, in part because of a professed commitment to transparency.

"I'm a proponent of lots of money in politics and full disclosure in politics," Mike Duncan, an American Crossroads board member, said in May during a panel discussion focusing partly on Republican plans for outside group spending in the midterm elections in the wake of a January Supreme Court decision allowing more corporate spending with less transparency.

American Crossroads, the non-profit group Duncan helps lead with assistance from Bush-era operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, had recently registered under a section of the tax code - 527 - that requires regular disclosure of its donors, primarily because of its founders' commitment to "full accountability" and "transparency," explained Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman. During the panel, Duncan recalled "when we had the board discussion, we talked about the fact that we were going to be ahead of the curve on this."

But, less than one month after the panel, with American Crossroads entering its fourth month of existence struggling to raise money from donors leery of having their names disclosed, the Crossroads operatives spun off a sister group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (or Crossroads GPS, for short), which they registered under a different section of the tax code - section 501(c)4 - that does not require donor disclosure.

With the Crossroads fundraising team, led by Rove, emphasizing to prospective donors the ability to give to Crossroads GPS anonymously, fundraising took off.

Through Oct. 12, more than 57 percent of the $56 million raised by the two groups had come through anonymous donations to Crossroads GPS, according to an analysis by POLITICO of Crossroads public statements and records on file with the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service.

They said they'd disclose donors' names and they could get many donations; they decided they would take donations anonymously and the money started flowing in. The group's "destroy America" platform might make them look bad, and here's how they phrased it:

"Whether it's legitimate or not, there is this near-hysteria, this belief that the Democrats are going to come after us," if donors disclose their contributions to GOP-allied groups, said one person who was asked to donate the Crossroads groups. "Everybody is truly afraid that the Obama administration is going to target them."

Yes, that's it. Obama's going to hire an assassin to kill everyone who donates to Republican campaigns. He's been planning on doing it, but he just hasn't found the time in between meetings of his Muslim sleeper cell and trips to his Marxist Christian church.

But it doesn't sound all that much different from this:

My objection to televising high-profile trials is not theoretical. It emerges directly from the experience of the attempt to televise the trial for Proposition 8. Two-thirds of the expert witnesses-people who had been willing to sit for deposition, to prepare testimony, to fly to Sacramento to testify-dropped out under the prospect of having their faces and names televised. I understand their reluctance, because I know (personally) the kind of hatred and threats that adopting a high-profile position against gay marriage now generate. Many people I know who had a low profile-donors of a few hundred dollars or less-unexpectedly faced a tidal wave of hate that has impacted their personal and professional lives. People I know have been attacked on the street for holding up a "Yes on 8? sign, received death threats, and lost their jobs.

The idea that homophobes who want to donate to marriage campaigns and testify in high-profile trials but fear the gays will come for them in their sleep is far more ridiculous than the proposition that rich people who want to take away money from public schools and retirement and health care and roads so that they can get a new yacht are worried that their "let them eat cake" attitudes will get them in trouble. At least there's historical precedent for the latter.

Which makes me wonder how much of the work NOM is doing is for itself and its particular movement and how much is for the broader right-wing movement, to loosen these laws and make it easier for these groups to set up shop alongside candidates' campaigns. Whether they coordinate or not isn't important because the candidates will remember who got them into office in the first place.

Even if they don't change their views because of the help they get during elections, it doesn't hurt rich people to have a true believer in office.

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