National Organization for Marriage uses campaign loophole to avoid disclosure


The National Organization for Marriage has been gearing up its efforts in Minnesota this year with television ads, a new round of radio spots, a series of rallies and a mailer targeting Sen. Paul Koering. But the group hasn’t disclosed any of its activities with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board – and it’s likely it doesn’t have to, thanks to a loophole in Minnesota’s campaign laws. 

NOM has a history of pushing the boundaries of disclosure laws, and action has been taken against the group in Iowa, California and Maine over the last two years.

In Iowa, the group was subject to a campaign finance complaint after it spent considerable amounts of money to help elect a Republican member of the House in a special election. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board also sent the group a letter reminding NOM of its responsibilities under state law.

In California, during the campaign to pass Prop 8, a voter referendum that rescinded marriage rights for the state’s same-sex couples, NOM refused to disclose its Form 990s. After significant pressure, NOM released its 990s, which list donors and expenditures.

In Maine, NOM is refusing to disclose how much money it raised in-state and from whom. The state opened an investigation, and NOM is currently suing Maine to prevent the disclosure of bank statements and the names of contributors.

Here in Minnesota, NOM bought $200,000 worth of television ads in May targeting DFL candidates for governor, as well as Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, for supporting marriage equality.

In a round of radio ads soon to hit airwaves, NOM and the Minnesota Family Council are targeting Dayton and Horner for their stance on marriage and propping up candidate Emmer.

But NOM doesn’t have to disclose who helped them fund the ads.

“There is a loophole in the current law that does not require disclosure of an independent expenditure ad as long as they don’t mention the magic words,” said Mike Dean of Minnesota Common Cause, a group that advocates for more transparency in government. “The magic words are more or less defined as ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against’ a particular candidates.”

Common Cause Minnesota pushed for legislation last session in order close that loophole, but Dean said business interests rallied against those changes. “I fear that the reason they opposed it because they plan on use this loophole during the upcoming election,” said Dean. “Especially after the criticism that Target received.”

Target has been the subject of a nationwide boycott following a $150,000 donation to MN Forward, a Republican-run political action committee that has endorsed Tom Emmer for governor.

“[NOM’s] ads are clearly an attempt to influence the election,” Dean added. “We may never know who is behind these type of ads because the business community opposed efforts this legislative session to close the loophole.”

The influence in NOM’s ads is readily apparent. Though the group doesn’t say “vote for” or “vote against,” its ads leave little to the imagination as to who the group wants voters to support.

“DFL lawmakers don’t want you to vote on marriage,” says the announcer in the group’s May television spot.

“DFL nominee for governor Mark Dayton wants to impose same-sex marriage on Minnesota as does independent Tom Horner, but Republican Tom Emmer wants to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” says the group’s new radio ad. “Tom Emmer believes that Minnesota voters should have the final say on marriage, just as voters in 31 other states have done. Mark Dayton and Tom Horner say no vote for Minnesota. Dayton and Horner want your votes but they don’t want you to vote on marriage.”