Monday, February 1, 2010

Ethics Commission rebuffs group hiding ballot measure money

An update for those interested in who funded the successful ballot measure to repeal Maine's same sex marriage law:

As you'll recall, the National Organization for Marriage gave nearly two thirds of the money behind the effort, but has not only refused to comply with Maine law and reveal its donors, it has sued the state in federal court to try to get our campaign finance laws declared unconstitutional, a tale you can read about in the current Down East. In October, NOM lost a preliminary ruling, clearing the way for the state ethics commission to investigate the group and presumably reveal their donors.

But on Thursday, NOM asked the ethics commission to suspend their investigation for months or years while their case works its way through the federal courts. To increase the heat on the commissioners -- each of whom NOM has sued -- their attorney, James Bopp, Jr., is the very same attorney who argued the recent U.S. Supreme Court case which removed restrictions on corporate spending in elections.

For those who believe that transparency is essential in politics, there's good news: four out of five commissioners voted to deny NOM's request, clearing the way for the investigation. (The holdout, Belfast Republican Francis Marsan, argued the investigation wasn't worth the money if it could later be blocked.) Curiously, one of the two commissioners who in October voted against investigating NOM -- Edward Youngblood (R-Bangor) -- now supports the probe, as does the new independent commissioner, Margaret Matheson of Augusta. For hardcore political wonks, the audio of the entire commission meeting is here, along with the official agenda.

Ironically, the recent Supreme Court ruling may undermine NOM's case against Maine, as it bolsters the argument that political contributions must be transparent. Keith Shortall at Maine Public Broadcasting reported on this last week.

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