PORTLAND, Maine — A lawyer for the leading national advocacy group opposing same-sex marriage told Maine’s highest court Thursday that the First Amendment shields it from having to reveal its donor list to state officials.
Forcing donor names to be disclosed in connection with the state’s 2009 referendum that overturned the state’s Legislature-enacted gay marriage law would have a chilling effect on donors, said Kaylan Phillips, representing the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington, D.C.-based group that has campaigned against same-sex marriage initiatives nationwide.
The Maine Ethics Commission demanded to see the names of the organization’s donors, and a lower court judge refused to throw out the subpoenas. The National Organization for Marriage is appealing that ruling.
NOM was the primary donor when it gave $1.9 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, a political action committee that helped repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law.
The Ethics Commission says it needs the list of donors to determine if the organization should have registered and disclosed donors. State law requires groups to register as ballot question committees if they raise or spend more than $5,000 to influence a statewide ballot question.
Phillips told justices that the group shouldn’t have to turn over the donor names since none of the contributions were earmarked specifically to fight Maine’s gay marriage law. Donors shouldn’t be subjected to phone calls from the Ethics Commission to determine if the organization should have registered, she said, or possibly to have their names publicly disclosed.
“This is a very controversial issue, as I see in my everyday life, even with death threats to my law firm,” said Phillips, who is from Indianapolis.
Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner told justices that both federal and state courts have already rejected the group’s argument.
To determine whether NOM should have registered as a ballot question committee, the Ethics Commission needs to ask donors whether the group made specific reference to Maine’s referendum when soliciting donations, Gardiner said.
If the supreme court denies the appeal, the group could be required to disclose the names of donors for the Ethics Commission’s investigators.
If the Ethics Commission determines that the organization falls under the state’s ballot question committee requirements, then NOM could be required to register as such, at which time it would have to reveal the names of all donors who contributed to the 2009 effort to repeal Maine’s gay marriage law.
Maine voters in November approved same-sex marriage in a statewide referendum. The law went into effect in late December.
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