The National Organization for Marriage will come under close scrutiny today with the launch of a new Web site that will detail supporters and backers of the organization, whose goal is to fight against same-sex marriage. (NOM, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., was founded in 2007 “in response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage in state legislatures,” as its Web site states.)
“We want to out NOM for what it is—a secretive player in antigay politics, which is posing as an offshore company for antigay religious money,” says Michael Cole, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign.
After months of poring through public documents including court and tax records, the Web site, viewed in advance by NEWSWEEK, details NOM supporters like the Mormon and Catholic churches, as well as Opus Dei. It also posts items about organizations and individuals that have publicly expressed antigay rhetoric and activity and their relationship to NOM. The site includes a graph to show the phenomenal growth NOM has enjoyed over the last three years, going from a budget of $500,000 to $10 million in three years.
The D.C.-based NOM, has been fighting hard to keep its donors and supporters private. This month it filed suit in New York and Rhode Island, its latest in a serious of legal challenges in various states to protect the identity of its donors and, according to NOM president Brian Brown, engage in independent expenditure activities and issue ads like many other nonprofits.
The Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs expects NOM to fight NOMexposed.com, which has a convenient map that one can click on that chronicles NOM’s political activities in each state. “They [NOM] will take a page from their victim playbook and say they are under threat from us while they are accepting millions of dollars to take people’s rights away.”
NOM’s Brian Brown says those who oppose gay marriage require protection. “That’s because supporters of same-sex marriage are attempting to target, intimidate, and harass our donors.” He says he received a call six months ago threatening that he would be “strung up in a tree and lit on fire” but that he’s not intimidated, he’s concerned for donors and supporters who get similar calls, of which he says the group has ample evidence. NOM has litigated fiercely to shield its donors. But last week a federal court in Minnesota upheld the state’s campaign disclosure laws from a challenge from NOM to keep that information private, and NOM is currently engaged in legal action in New York, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Hampshire, California, and Maine, where it has been under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission for failing to register as a ballot-question committee or disclose its donors in its successful fight to overturn Maine’s gay-marriage law in 2009.
The NOMexposed.com Project, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese says, “is a message to lawmakers saying that if you want NOM support, you are going to have to wear NOM support.” He says the site is designed to prevent further efforts by NOM to sideline election laws and fail to disclose donors as midterms and the next presidential election loom. “The days of openly bigoted rhetoric against gays, like what we saw with Rick Santorum are over; what you see now is the same sentiment, but the packaging is different.”
But Brown says gay rights groups have also been stealthily raising funds. “Ask HRC to release all its donors” suggests Brown, who points to articles about gay-rights fundraisers who work behind the scenes. “We are not out to hoodwink voters. We are talking openly about same-sex marriage and that’s why we’ll win.” NOM, on its own Web site, proudly asserts its success when pro-gay-marriage candidates are pushed out of races with headlines like GAY MARRIAGE TOPPLES ANOTHER RINO [a acronym meaning: Republican in Name Only] detailing its ad campaigns.
The Courage Campaign and the HRC say they will continue in the coming months and years to expose NOM and its donors so that religious communities will be aware that their fundraising may not necessarily be directed to poor and struggling families during the recession but to political campaigns to fight gay marriage. The site highlights a recent news report on how the Knights of Columbus has donated about $1.4 million to NOM, versus channeling that money to initiatives for the poor. The NOM Project also details specific legal challenges to NOM by state so that local activists can educate voters. For example, according to the site “NOM provided more than $1.8 million of the $3 million spent by opponents of marriage equality to pass Question 1—but it illegally failed to disclose where the money came from. Public disclosure laws create transparency by informing voters who is behind a campaign effort. Maine’s law does this by requiring that any funds raised to support or oppose a ballot question be made public.”
NOM’s Brown had not seen the site before his interview with NEWSWEEK but says that any Web site targeting NOM will only backfire. “They must be awfully worried about us to spend so much time and money getting our name out there—thanks.” He adds: “We’ve gotten checks from Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, evangelicals, the Knights of Columbus—and we are thankful for their support. Any effort to attack religious groups will not go over well.”