Campaign finance board dismisses complaints against NOM, MFC

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A pair of campaign finance complaints against the National Organization for Marriage and the Minnesota Family Council were dismissed by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on Wednesday. Common Cause Minnesota had filed the complaints alleging that advertising by the two groups on an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2010 constituted lobbying. The board ruled that the ads were too vague to trigger the registration requirement for lobbyists.

The board dismissed the complaint against the Minnesota Family Council because the group did not pay for the ads. Though the ads were listed as “Paid for by the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage,” the Family Council did not actually contribute any funds to the ad campaign.

MFC’s CEO John Helmberger told the board,

Because of their shared goals of preserving traditional marriage in Minnesota, National Organization for Marriage asked MFC to help plan the production and placement of the [subject] ads. While MFC had input as to the production and placement of these ads, MFC did not pay for any part of their production or broadcast, nor is it obligated to reimburse the National Organization for Marriage for any part of the cost of producing or broadcasting the ads. Further, during 2010 MFC did not make any contribution to the National Organization for Marriage.

Based on that, the board dismissed the complaint from the group.

“There is no probable cause to believe that MFC paid for or is obligated to pay for any cost of creation, production, distribution, or broadcasting of the subject communications,” the board wrote.

The board also dismissed the complaint against NOM: “There is no probable cause to believe that NOM engaged in activities during 2010 that would require it to report as a principal [lobbyist].”

Because the ads were vague, NOM did not actually lobby for the anti–gay marriage amendment, the board noted. At issue is the fact that although NOM advocated the election of Tom Emmer who supported the amendment, the governor has no say in constitutional amendments.

“The legislation most clearly implied in the ads is the constitutional amendment to define marriage,” the board wrote. “While the next Governor may advocate for a legislative action, the Governor himself or herself can neither force nor prevent the placing a constitutional amendment question before the voters.”

The board also concluded that since no bills on same-sex marriage were active in the Minnesota Legislature at the time the ads came out, the ads did no constitute lobbying.

“Some of the ads also refer generally to the claim that Dayton, Horner, or the DFL legislature want to impose gay marriage on Minnesotans. Considering the fact that at the time the ads ran, there were no active bills and the composition of the next legislature could not be predicted, these references are too remote and vague to constitute an attempt to influence legislative action.”

The board added, “Any influence the ads may have on a the actions of future legislature, the composition of which will not be known until after the 2010 elections, is too speculative to permit regulation of the ads under Minnesota’s principal disclosure statutes.”

Copies of the decisions can be viewed on the board’s website.