January 21, 2011

Ethics panel seeking donor names

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA - The state ethics commission continues to seek the names of people who donated to the National Organization for Marriage in 2009 -- an inquiry the organization continues to oppose.

The group provided more than $1.9 million to a political action committee in Maine that helped repeal a law to legalize same-sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage says that identifying donors would violate their First Amendment rights and deter future donors.

Lawyers for each side presented arguments Wednesday in Kennebec County Superior Court to a judge who said she will provide a ruling in writing.

Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner told the judge that the ethics commission wants to question donors.

"What did they understand they were asked to contribute money for?" Gardiner said.

The answers would help the commission determine whether the National Organization for Marriage should have registered with the state as a ballot question committee.

State law says groups that raise or spend more than $5,000 to attempt to influence the outcome of any Maine election must register and disclose their donors.

Josiah Neeley, the attorney representing the National Organization for Marriage in its bid to keep donors' names private, said it would be possible to provide information about donation amounts and dates while redacting the names of donors.

According to Neeley, a number of people want to know who the donors are, and a lawyer at a previous hearing cited instances of harassment in California after the release of donors' names following a gay-marriage vote there.

 

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