Question 1 group eyes lawmakers in next election

Posted Dec. 09, 2009, at 7:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The national group that contributed more than $1.5 million to overturn Maine’s same-sex marriage law now hopes to influence next year’s elections for the State House.

The National Organization for Marriage has indicated in court filings that it plans to make gay marriage an issue in the coming races for governor and legislative seats. The organization would apparently target legislators who voted in support of a same-sex marriage bill that was ultimately repealed by voters.

Officials of the National Organization for Marriage could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But the organization has filed sample political materials in a court case stemming from its hefty financial involvement in the recent same-sex marriage campaign.

In one example of a broadcast ad, the organization accuses a “Candidate X” of “slamming supporters of traditional marriage” during the gay marriage campaign and then receiving donations from the same groups behind the push to legalize same-sex marriage.

“Even after voters rejected same-sex marriage, these backers say they will continue to push the issue,” reads the text of the hypothetical ad. “Call Candidate X and tell him-her to respect the decision of voters. Let him-her know it’s wrong to accept money from special interest groups backing same-sex marriage and that it’s time to stop pushing to redefine marriage in Maine.”

House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, said she isn’t overly concerned about the National Organization for Marriage’s potential involvement in the 2010 legislative races. She predicted that some voters will be turned off by the organization’s refusal, to date, to disclose the identity of its donors.

“I don’t think that Maine voters are one-issue voters,” said Pingree, who campaigned to defend Maine’s same-sex marriage law. “Clearly, Maine voters were very, very split on this question of marriage equality.”

Despite a significant financial advantage and considerable momentum in the final days of the campaign, the effort to defend Maine’s same-sex marriage law ultimately lost 47 percent to 53 percent in the Nov. 3 vote.

Pingree said she has no doubt some Republican challengers will bring up Democrats’ vote in support of the same-sex marriage bill during the upcoming campaigns. But she believes Mainers are more interested in issues such as the economy, jobs and energy.

“I’m sure this issue will get heated in some districts,” said Pingree, who is prevented by term limits from running again in the House. “I don’t think it will have a significant impact overall in the House legislative races.”

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster also questioned how much influence the National Organization for Marriage or any other out-of-state organization can have on candidate elections in Maine.

Webster said he is not recruiting GOP candidates based on the gay marriage issue. But incumbents’ record of representing the political will of the majority of voters in their district is important in legislative races, he said.

Webster and other GOP leaders are hoping to cash in on any opposition to the recent tax restructuring plan approved by the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Maine voters are slated to decide this June whether to uphold or overturn the new tax law, which reduces the income tax rate for the vast majority of residents while ap-plying the sales tax to more goods and services and increasing the meals and lodging tax.

“Frankly, it will defeat more Democrats than gay marriage will, in my opinion,” Webster said.

The intentions of the National Organization for Marriage to stay involved in Maine politics came to light as part of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland focusing on the substantial financial role that the organization played in defeating same-sex marriage at the polls on Nov. 3.

The organization donated at least $1.6 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, accounting for more than half of the campaign’s contributions as of late October, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state. Total contributions for both sides of the campaign won’t be available until next week.

But the National Organization for Marriage has refused to identify the individual sources of its donations, claiming money is raised to defend “traditional marriage” in general, not for specific fights such as Maine’s ballot measure. Requiring disclosure, the organization has argued, could deter donations from people who fear re-taliation from pro-gay marriage groups or individuals.

Members of the Maine Ethics Commission disagreed and voted in October to investigate whether the group is skirting state campaign finance laws.

The National Organization for Marriage retaliated with a federal lawsuit claiming Maine’s “ballot question committee” reporting requirements were burdensome and unconstitutional under free speech laws.

Now the organization’s attorneys have broadened their arguments in court to also challenge Maine’s definition of a “political action committees” and financial reporting requirements for PACs.

In the most recent court filing that included the sample campaign materials, the National Organization for Marriage argues that requiring disclosure of all donors to a political action committee “will deter donations to NOM from those who otherwise would donate.”

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