A national group that successfully campaigned to overturn Maine’s first same-sex marriage law in 2009 on Monday released the names of seven donors who gave $2 million to the campaign and had remained anonymous during a four-year dispute with state election officials.
The National Organization for Marriage report shows that the seven donors, all affiliated in some way with a network of national conservative Christian groups, gave the money to NOM, which funneled it to Stand for Marriage Maine, the Maine-based political action committee that became the public face of the successful bid to overturn the marriage equality law.
The donor list includes one person from Maine: Richard Kurtz of Cape Elizabeth, who donated $50,000 in 2009. He also is listed as having given $1,000 to the 2008 campaign to overturn California’s marriage equality law.
Wealthy donors from other states are on the list, as is the national Knights of Columbus organization.
Jonathan Wayne, director of the Maine ethics commission, which investigated NOM’s activity, said Monday that disclosure of the donors is significant even if it came years later than it should have.
“The outcome is important because it reinforces that if groups are coming to Maine to promote an initiative or referendum, they need to register with the commission and disclose where their political money is coming from,” he said.
Wayne noted that the courts supported the commission’s ruling that NOM violated state law by trying to conceal its activity and donors.
“There’s more and more legal challenges to these (disclosure) laws,” he said. “So the fact that these laws were challenged and received a clean bill of health from the federal courts is very significant to us.”
The release of the donor names came three weeks after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court refused the organization’s request for a delay in complying with a state ethics board ruling that it must file a report identifying the sources of the $2 million that NOM gave to the referendum drive.
NOM has argued that revealing the identity of its donors would subject them to personal attacks and harassment.
Chris Plante, NOM’s regional director, told the Portland Press Herald last year that the effort to disclose donors “is a tactic of same-sex marriage advocates across the country to try to chill the free speech of individuals who would stand for marriage between one man and one woman. We find there’s a particular effort to attack and force retribution against those who stand in the public square.”
ACTIVITIES OF THE NOM DONORS
Public campaign finance records show that Kurtz and his wife, Virginia, have donated to Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party while backing an array of Republican candidates and political action committees, including the Club for Growth and American Crossroads. They also have given to the Family Research Council, a national group that describes itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power,” but is regarded among progressive groups and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as a hate group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the Family Research Council’s “real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians … in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”
Reached by phone Monday, Virginia Kurtz said neither she nor her husband wanted to comment.
Richard Kurtz, an 81-year-old retiree, was once the president of Sentinel Corp., a real estate management company registered as a corporation in Massachusetts that dissolved in 1999, according to an online records search. He and his wife also are associated with at least two charitable organizations, but none that has filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
The largest donor to NOM in 2009 was Sean Fieler, president of the hedge fund Equinox Partners and the Kuroto Fund. He gave $1.25 million to the group.
Other donors include John Templeton of Pennsylvania. Templeton, who gave $300,000 to NOM’s activity in Maine in 2009, is ranked No. 27 in the country in a list of top individual donors to federal candidates, political action committees and tax-exempt political groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Templeton, who is head of the Templeton Foundation, was the second-largest donor to the ballot initiative that overturned California’s same-sex marriage law. He also has backed the presidential campaign of Rick Santorum, an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage.
Terrence Caster, a high-profile San Diego businessman and prolific donor to tax-exempt political groups, also gave $300,000 to NOM’s efforts in Maine.
The Knights of Columbus donated $140,000 to NOM to support the repeal of Maine’s nascent gay marriage law. The Roman Catholic fraternal and service organization spent $6.5 million on an array of campaigns opposing same-sex marriage between 2005 and 2012, according to a 2012 report by Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups supporting gay marriage.
RECORD FINE PAID, LEGAL FIGHT ENDS
Monday’s disclosure marked the end of a lengthy legal battle.
Last year, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices imposed a record $50,250 fine on NOM because it failed to register as a ballot question committee or file campaign activity and donor disclosure reports.
In April, a Maine Superior Court ruling upheld the ethics commission decision to fine NOM and require the group to list its donors.
Wayne, the ethics commission director, indicated that NOM had paid its fine and filed as a ballot question committee, under protest.
NOM gave more than $2 million to the $3 million referendum campaign to overturn the marriage equality law that the Legislature had passed and Gov. John Baldacci had signed. That law never took effect. But in 2012, LGBT activists and a coalition of groups led an effort that legalized same-sex marriage in a statewide referendum.
Brian Brown, NOM’s executive director, was an operating officer in 2009 for Stand for Marriage Maine, the ballot question committee that registered with the state. The ethics commission members argued that Brown’s dual role allowed NOM to shield its donors and skirt Maine’s donor disclosure law.
The commission’s investigation resulted in a 37-page report showing that NOM supplied about two-thirds of the money for the 2009 campaign and operated as something of a shadow campaign for Stand for Marriage Maine.
“The staff views NOM’s failure to register and file financial reports as a significant violation of law,” the report said. “Maine people deserve to know who is funding political campaigns to influence their vote.”
Wayne said in an email Monday that the “decision and litigation have been a long haul, but they have had the effect of strengthening Maine’s campaign finance laws.”
SUBDUED REACTION FROM RIVALS
The $50,250 fine against NOM was nearly twice the largest previous ethics penalty against a state political action committee. In 2011, the commission fined the Republican State Leadership Committee $26,000 for violating the state’s campaign disclosure law.
Reaction to the donor name disclosures from the groups involved in the 2009 campaign was relatively subdued Monday, revealing a drastically different political climate for same-sex marriage and new priorities for LGBT advocates and opponents.
The ratification of Maine’s same-sex marriage law in 2012 via voter referendum came amid a rapid shift in public attitude. Shortly after the 2012 campaign, several courts overturned various state bans on same-sex marriage.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry.