As the late, great U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill once said, “Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can whisper. Never whisper when you can nod. Never nod when you can wink.”

His point: The more you commit to paper today, the more it might come back and bite you tomorrow.

The Massachusetts legend’s words came to mind last week after the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals unsealed a pile of documents connected to the National Organization for Marriage’s ongoing legal spat with the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

They’re all lengthy. They’re all detailed. And they’re all stamped “confidential.”

The documents were produced back in 2009, while NOM was hard at work orchestrating the repeal of Maine’s same-sex marriage law. Now, almost three years later, they provide a sneak preview of sorts as Mainers brace themselves for another same-sex marriage referendum this fall.

Take, for example, this boast from NOM’s staff to its board one month after the 2009 vote:

“NOM was intimately involved in Maine from the beginning, helping create and manage the StandforMarriageMaine.com referendum committee, collecting twice as many signatures as necessary to get gay marriage on the ballot, and ultimately funding almost two-thirds of the campaign.”

Or this from NOM’s national “Not a Civil Right Project”:

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage … (and) provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

Or this, from “Sideswiping Obama”:

“Expose Obama as a social radical. Develop side issues to weaken pro-gay marriage political leaders and parties … Raise such issues as pornography, protection of children.”

No wonder NOM, which continues to resist Maine’s demand that it fully disclose its 2009 donors, battled long and hard to keep its mountain of memos out of public view.

Lo and behold, the organization that wants us to believe it’s all about religion and the word of God is actually about driving “wedges,” developing “side issues” and “fanning the hostility” ignited in 2008 by California’s Proposition 8 – on which NOM says its Maine campaign was based.

The same folks who cry foul when they hear the word “bigot,” we now learn, go out of their way to “provoke” same-sex marriage supporters into using that fighting word against, of all people, African- Americans.

And even as they crow about how much money they poured into Maine to halt – or at least stall – this inevitable social juggernaut, the holier-than-thou fundraisers at NOM promised anonymity to anyone willing to speak (or, more accurately, whisper) with their checkbook.

“We cannot designate any money given to NOM to the Maine effort because of disclosure requirements,” notes a strategy paper from August 2009. “But we do plan to contribute a total of $1 million to the campaign.”

(For those keeping score, Tip O’Neill would put that somewhere between a nod and a wink.)

Apologists for NOM will say this is all par for the course, that any advocacy group on any side of a hot-button issue has to get down and dirty behind closed doors if it truly wants to win at the polls.

But Matt McTighe, the newly named campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, said in an interview Friday that his pro-same-sex marriage organization “doesn’t need memo after memo after memo and all these internal strategy documents.”

Why not?

“Because we have a simple strategy,” McTighe said. “We just go out and talk to people about why marriage matters to all loving, committed couples in Maine.”

What’s more, he added, it’s working: Polls showing a steady rise in support for same-sex marriage in Maine over the past year appear to be in sync with an ongoing door-to-door campaign by volunteer supporters who so far have logged some 54,000 home visits statewide.

Or, as McTighe refers to them, “conversations.”

“The idea of talking to Mainers and sharing a story isn’t a ‘campaign tactic,’ ” he said. “It’s just a way to talk to people – to have a conversation. It’s the only way we know of, in fact, to get people to move and really change their opinion on this issue.”

Even as Mainers United for Marriage hits the ground running, it’s hard to say what the opposing roster will look like this time around.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine already has announced it will not lead this year’s charge like it did in 2009.

(A possible hint as to why: In that post-election memo to the board, NOM said it boosted its Maine budget from $1 million to $1.8 million after “fundraising from other sources failed.” Might Bishop Richard Malone, whose collections at Sunday Masses apparently didn’t reap a sufficiently bountiful harvest, feel skittish about passing the basket once more?)

And while the Christian Civic League of Maine has said it will pick up where the Roman Catholic diocese left off, no one knows for sure how NOM will divide its dollars among Maine and three other states expected to have same-sex marriage questions on their ballots this November.

That said, noted McTighe, “I expect (NOM) will do exactly what they’ve always done” when it comes to both money and, alas, messaging.

That leaves the recently formed No Special Rights PAC, run by longtime crusader against all things homosexual Paul Madore of Lewiston and former Christian Civic League of Maine leader Michael Heath of Waterville.

Their strategy?

“The watchful eyes of the fox are on the vineyard,” Heath wrote in a Portland Press Herald op-ed column last week. “Biding his time, he waits until the farmer leaves, then with a bounding leap is over the wall, devouring a meal of golden grapes.”

Please, in the name of Tip O’Neill, someone teach that man how to wink.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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