PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from a national anti-gay marriage group that tried to thwart Maine's campaign disclosure law requiring it to release its donor list, but it's unlikely the list will be made public soon.
The high court turned aside an appeal from the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington, D.C.-based group that donated $1.9 million to a political action committee that helped repeal Maine's same-sex marriage law in 2009.
Maine's campaign disclosure law requires groups that raise or spend more than $5,000 to influence elections to register and disclose donors. NOM contends that releasing the donor list would stymie free speech and subject donors to harassment, but the lower court refused to throw out the law.
Following Monday's decision, NOM Chairman John Eastman said his group will review Maine's requests to disclose certain donors in the 2009 campaign. The state, he said, appears to have narrowed the type of information it's seeking.
In 2009, the state ethics commission said state law required NOM to turn over a list of all those who sent donations in response to any solicitation that mentioned Maine, even if it also mentioned other states, Eastman said. But in documents filed with the Supreme Court, the state was looking only for names of those who donated specifically for NOM's campaign to overturn Maine's gay marriage law, he said.
Since NOM doesn't accept donations that are earmarked for designated campaigns, there could be zero people on the list of donors who gave specifically for Maine's 2009 campaign, Eastman said. NOM will review its materials to see if it sent out solicitations that were Maine-specific, he said.
"We'll now be looking at the narrow subset of donors that meet the new definition – the subset of those that donated for the purpose of advocating for or opposing a ballot initiative in Maine," Eastman said.
Maine Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner said Eastman is possibly misinterpreting the state's argument before the Supreme Court.
"The commission has not narrowed or changed its interpretation of what the statute requires during this litigation," she said.
Voters repealed Maine's gay marriage law in 2009, but it's on the ballot again in the Nov. 6 election.
For now, the 2009 donor list remains under wraps while a separate NOM case makes its way through the state court system.
The ethics commission is still investigating whether NOM falls under the state's ballot question committee requirements, Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said.
While the federal lawsuit has played out, NOM is using state courts to challenge the commission's use of subpoenas in the case. A superior court justice upheld the subpoenas in state court over the summer, but NOM has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court.
"The commission is interested in winding up its investigation, but it will take some weeks," he said.
Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, which supports the same-sex marriage proposal on the ballot, said gay marriage supporters don't care so much about who's on NOM's list of donors but rather want the organization to play by the same rules as everybody else.
"If they're going to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign like they did in 2009, the people of Maine should know where that money's coming from," he said.
NOM this month announced it has given $250,000 to the campaign opposing Maine's same-sex marriage proposal. It's also registered a political action committee, the National Organization for Marriage Maine PAC, to oppose the referendum.
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.