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Iowa ethics board to investigate National Organization for Marriage

Iowa ethics board to investigate National Organization for Marriage

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted Thursday to investigate whether a national group that opposes gay marriage violated state law.

The inquiry will focus on the National Organization for Marriage and its efforts in 2010 and 2012 to unseat Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of a unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state. It was trigger by a complaint filed by Fred Karger, a Republican gay rights activist from California.

National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown at an anti-gay marriage rally.

Karger said the group should have revealed the donors and any in-kind contributions made toward its 2010 and 2012 advocacy.

“They blatantly disregarded Iowa election law,” said Karger, who has filed complaints against the organization in Maine and California. “They have a history of being duplicitous.”

Voters removed three justices in 2010 after an intense campaign by anti-gay marriage advocates, but in 2012 they retained Justice David Wiggins, who was also targeted by conservative groups.

Joseph Vanderhulst, an attorney for the National Organization for Marriage, called the allegations “baseless” in a written response to the board.

Board director Megan Tooker said the organization is required to disclose donors if the group sought and received funds specifically for the effort to unseat the justices. She said that if wrongdoing is discovered the organization could have to pay a fine or reveal its donors.

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Tooker noted that Karger provided information about an email the group sent in 2012 asking for support in the fight against the justices.

In Vanderhulst’s response, he said that donations raised through emails and phone calls need not be disclosed in Iowa. But Tooker called that interpretation “absolutely false.”

The board also adopted a new advisory opinion governing social media sites for political candidates. It states that accounts – like Facebook and Twitter pages – created for political purposes should also include a “paid for by” attribution somewhere on the profile page.

Currently, political candidates or campaigns must include such a disclosure on advertisements, brochures and other items. If the account was free, the opinion says the person who opens and manages the account is “paying” for the message.

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