Archive for October, 2009

Letter to Maine Ethics Commission on the National Organization of Marriage from Michael B. Keegan

Friday, October 30th, 2009

From: People for the American Way

October 30, 2009

Mr. Jonathan Wayne
Executive Director
Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices
135 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333

Dear Mr. Wayne,

I am writing you concerning misleading and inaccurate statements made by Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage, at the Commission’s October meeting pertaining to the disclosure of the organization’s 990 federal tax form. As you are aware, nonprofit organizations such as NOM are required by law to provide a redacted 990 upon request. This requirement is such a basic and widely accepted part of nonprofit management that there is rarely any sort of controversy surrounding the disclosure of 990s. NOM, however, is an exception.

The issue of NOM’s 2008 990 came before the Commission due to testimony by Fred Karger, founder of Califorians Against Hate, and Danielle Truszkovsky, a Florida-based political columnist. Both testified that NOM had refused to provide a copy of the 990. Mr. Brown, in response, categorically rejected the claims of Mr. Karger and Ms. Truszkovsky and testified that NOM had faithfully complied with federal disclosure requirements. However, the facts simply do not support Mr. Brown’s testimony.

NOM, according to Mr. Brown, filed its 2008 990 with the IRS on August 14, 2009 — one day before the August 15 deadline for groups, including NOM, that filed for an automatic extension. Per IRS regulations, the 990 “must be made available from the date it is required to be filed” — in this case, August 15. Yet when Lou Chibbaro, a veteran political reporter for the Washington Blade, interviewed Mr. Brown the following week and requested the 2008 990, Mr. Brown “promised to release to the Blade NOM’s 2007 IRS 990 finance reporting form and said the group would also release its 2008 990 form as soon as it completes its processing.” On August 28, Mr. Chibbaro visited NOM’s DC office and delivered a written request for the 990s. Mr. Brown called him back that day and informed him that his staff was still at work “processing” the form.

However, there is no such thing as a “processing” period beyond the filing deadline during which time an organization can refuse to disclose its 990. Furthermore, Mr. Chibbaro never received the 2008 990, nor was he notified when NOM suddenly posted the 990 on the web in the days leading up to the October Commission meeting.

Ms. Truszkovsky had a similar experience. She visited NOM’s DC office on September 1 and met personally with Mr. Brown. When she requested the 2008 990, she was told that it was not available. Ms. Truszkovsky never received the 990 from NOM and was also not notified when the form was posted online. Additionally, a representative of Californians Against Hate submitted a request via certified letter to NOM’s offices for the 990s, with the same outcome.

The experiences of these three individuals — and most likely others — directly refute Mr. Brown’s testimony. Mr. Brown said in response to Mr. Karger that it “is simply not the case” that “we refuse to disclose our financial records.” In response to Ms. Truszkovsky, he said “in fact, when journalists have asked, we’ve gotten [990s] out to them. At the time that some have requested our 2008 990, it wasn’t filed. So we cannot provide something that has not yet been filed.

“Then, when asked by Commissioner Walter McKee whether NOM’s 990s had been “provided every time it’s been asked for,” Mr. Brown said the following: “Many of these requests, if not all of them, included our 2008 990, and so once we had filed that, we would get all of the documents to them. Could some have been a little later than the 30 day window? Yes, if we did anything like that it would just have to do with the amount of processing.” He continued, “whenever we’ve been asked, we’ve attempted to comply, and mail them out, we’re not trying to hide them, we know our obligations, and we follow them.” Finally, in response to a question from Commissioner André Duchette, Mr. Brown replied that NOM was continuing to “comply if people write us letters before that time in sending them the 990 through the mail.

“But NOM did none of the above in response to multiple requests for the 2008 990. Ms. Truszkovsky and Mr. Chibbaro personally requested the 990 from Mr. Brown, and Mr. Chibbaro and Californians Against Hate requested the 990 in writing. Yet they never received the form, nor did NOM even notify them when the 990 was posted online. This does not appear to be an accident or an isolated instance of carelessness on the part of NOM. Indeed, the evidence clearly points to a concerted effort to conceal the organization’s finances for as long as possible and then to conceal the effort from the Commission.

We do not know what NOM hoped to gain by its actions, but this incident raises serious questions about NOM’s operations and leadership. We would therefore encourage the Commission to review and investigate the veractiy of Mr. Brown’s testimony.

Sincerely,
Michael B. Keegan
President
People For the American Way

CC: Commissioner Walter McKee
Commissioner André Duchette
Commissioner Michael Friedman
Commissioner Francis Marsano
Commissioner Edward Youngblood

News Release: Federal Judge in Maine – NOM Must Abide by Election Law

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 28, 2009
CONTACT:
Fred Karger 619-592-2008

brian_maggie_truth

NOM Heads — Brian Brown (right) Administers a Lie Detector Test to NOM Chairman, the Infamous Maggie Gallagher (left)

NOM Must Report Contributors

AUGUSTA, MAINE – Californians Against Hate applauds the Federal Court and Justice D. Brock Hornby for its decision today upholding the Maine election law, and ruling in favor of truth and transparency.

The Washington, DC based National Organization for Marriage (NOM) challenged the law while it is under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission for financial improprieties, reporting violations and money laundering. NOM is the biggest donor by far to Yes on 1, which would ban the recently enacted same-sex marriage law in the Pine Tree state. NOM gave 60% of the $2.6 million raised so far, but wants to keep its contributor’s names secret. Question 1 will be voted on next Tuesday, November 3rd.

NOM Shows Its True Colors

“In over 30 years in politics, I have never seen such a blatant disregard for the law as Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown are doing in Maine,” said Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate. “They are up to their old tricks. They did the same thing in California when their apparent creator, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) became the target of an investigation by that state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The FPPC began an unprecedented investigation of the Salt Lake City based Church (Case #08-735), and the National Organization for Marriage nearly one year ago. NOM sued every top election official in California in order to keep the contributors to last year’s Proposition 8 secret as well.”

Californians Against Hate asked the Maine Ethics Commission to investigate NOM in a formal request sent on August 24, 2009 to investigate the National Organization for Marriage. NOM had failed to disclose the names of any of its contributors as required by state law. Fred Karger and political columnist Danielle Truszkovsky testified in support of an investigation at the commission hearing in Augusta on October 1, 2009. The Commission voted to investigate NOM at that meeting. NOM’s reaction: sue Maine!

Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner represented the Ethics Commission before Justice Hornby stated, “The compelling interest for the public is to know whose spending money to influence their vote. Voters may want to know whether they are being lobbied by people from within or outside Maine.” Gardiner said the lawsuit is the first challenge of the state’s requirement for ballot question committees to register and report contributions.

The state law requires anyone raising or spending more than $5,000 on a ballot question in Maine to disclose anyone who contributed more than $100 for that purpose. All other organizations are complying with the law.

“The statute doesn’t restrict in any way what they can raise or what they can spend. It doesn’t restrict political speech in any way. It’s simply about reporting after the fact how much you spent or raised for the purpose of influencing the vote in Maine,” Gardiner says.

Violations can lead to fines, and, in the most extreme cases, a small amount of jail time.

Concluded Karger, “NOM was well aware of Maine’s longstanding reporting requirements and election law before it went charging up there to put this referendum on the ballot. From day one they tried to hide the source of their funds, and then sue the state when they got caught. They think that they are above the law, and today we saw that is not true.”

News Coverage: Harry Reid: A Mormon in the middle

Monday, October 26th, 2009

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Harry Reid: A Mormon in the middle
Politics » Some say his liberal stands clash with his LDS faith.

By Thomas Burr

harry_reid

Washington » Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid keeps a copy of the Book of Mormon in his office just off the chamber floor. There’s a second copy handy to give away to someone in need of spiritual guidance.

“I’ve had more than that,” says the Nevada Democrat, pulling the extra edition from his desk drawer. “I have one left.”

The Temple-recommend-carrying Reid is very active in his church, say fellow members in the Washington area. But that may come as a shock to some Mormon critics who contend that the Senate leader’s political stands put him at odds with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The latest round of religiously charged criticism came after Reid told gay rights groups in a private meeting that the LDS Church’s efforts to back the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California was a waste of resources and hurt the faith’s missionary efforts.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen posted a news story on that subject on his Facebook page, prompting several conservatives to challenge Reid’s Mormon credentials.

Conservative activist and Utah blogger Holly Richardson said she found Reid’s comments disconcerting and doesn’t see how Reid’s far left political beliefs can align with the LDS Church.

“I just don’t get how his politics translate to somebody who has LDS beliefs,” Richardson says. “He’s an embarrassment to me as a Mormon.”

Reid, who in 2007 became the highest ranking elected Mormon in the church’s history, says he’s faced this for years. And he’s not offended.

“I think some of the most unChristian-like letters, phone calls, contacts I’ve had were from members of the [LDS] church, saying some of the most mean things that are not in the realm of our church doctrine or certainly Christianity,” Reid said last week during an interview in his office.

Reid converted to Mormonism his senior year in college and attends church just outside the District of Columbia when in Washington or in Boulder City when in Nevada.

He recalls a time when his grandchildren were trick-or-treating at a local LDS ward event and came upon a poster featuring a picture of the Devil and Reid, and asking “Can you tell the difference?”

“I remember it,” Reid says when asked how he deals with the criticism, “but I try not to let people who do not represent the teachings that I have learned interfere with my basic beliefs.”

Religion and politics » Reid isn’t the first and likely not the last political leader to face fire for personal religious beliefs.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the Vatican earlier this year, an anti-abortion Catholic group hand delivered a letter calling for her to be ousted from the faith for her pro-abortion rights stand. A few Catholic bishops said during the 2004 presidential campaign that they would refuse Democratic Sen. John Kerry communion for his position on abortion.

Questions were raised during John F. Kennedy’s bid for the presidency about whether Rome would call the shots because of his Catholic faith and similar questions arose with Mitt Romney, a Mormon, during his White House bid last year.

“Having Mormons criticize Harry Reid, Catholics criticize Nancy Pelosi — George W. Bush got criticism from Methodists — it’s not an uncommon experience at all,” says John Green, senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“There are disputes within almost every religious community about what it means to be a strong supporter of the faith. What is it to be a good member?” Green continues. And because much of that dispute deals with controversial subjects, it spills over to politics.

“It is a very tough spot that Sen. Reid is in,” Green says. “It ought to be tough enough to represent Nevada [and be majority leader] without the religion angle and the religion angle just makes that much tougher.”

Washington lobbyist William Nixon, who is also the church’s Arlington Stake president, says Reid is in politics’ most precarious position.

“Serving as a majority leader in either party is always difficult for politicians,” says Nixon, a Republican. “You need to be the spear carrier for your party even on issues that are in the extremities and that often is at odds with what’s good politics at home or even how you may worship personally.”

The LDS Church declined comment for this story but pointed to its statement on relationships with government.

It says that elected officials who are LDS make their own decisions “and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position.”

And the church has made efforts in the past to dispel the notion that it sides with conservative politics. In 1998, church General Authority Marlin Jensen stressed that good Mormons can also be good Democrats. The late James E. Faust, a Democrat and then a member of the First Presidency, the church’s top governing body, said it was in the church’s best interest to have a two-party system.

Still, Mormon faithful remain overwhelmingly conservative. A survey released in July by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed that 65 percent of Mormons aligned themselves with the Republican Party or leaned that way, while 22 percent sided with the Democratic Party.

There are 14 members of the LDS Church in Congress. Ten are Republicans and four are Democrats.

But even some of the well-known Republican elected Mormons defend Reid as a faithful church member.

“He has the right to voice his opinions but I would under no circumstances challenge Harry’s credentials as a member of the church,” says Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

Bennett’s Utah Senate colleague, Orrin Hatch, says it’s not fair for fellow Mormons to disparage Reid as anything but a devout Mormon. Hatch says he didn’t agree with Reid’s statement on the gay marriage ballot question but said he’s entitled to speak it.

“I can personally tell you that Harry is a good member of the LDS faith and he was expressing a personal opinion that his side feels very deeply about,” Hatch says.

Reid says church leaders have never complained about his political statements.

Reid’s calling » Shortly after being elected in 1986, church leaders summoned Reid to their Salt Lake City headquarters.

“It was a pretty short meeting,” Reid says. “They said, here’s your assignment: Be the best member of the church you can be. That was it.”

Even on the most recent issue of gay marriage, Reid says he doesn’t disagree with the church’s position on traditional marriage. The senator says he voted in Nevada for the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

But he says he’s expressed his concern for years to leaders about the church stepping into the debate and that the millions the church invested in the Prop 8 campaign was bad strategy.

Reid said he’s not suggesting the church change its position, just that it not speak out so strongly. “It’s just bad strategy to create so much ill-will in California.”

The Democrat, though, says he understands the backlash he gets over such statements. He notes that most of the church’s lay ecclesiastic leaders are conservative and he’s fine with that.

“I don’t think my faith is a hindrance to what I do and I’m sorry if people feel that I in some way embarrass them,” Reid says, “but I have to frankly say that even on this issue there are a lot of people that say ‘we agree with you.’”

On Sunday, Reid, with his security escort in tow, likely made his home teaching rounds after his ward’s three-hour service. Anyone who questions his Mormon credentials should see that, says Jim Vlach, his home-teaching companion.

“He’s got a tremendous burden with health care [reform] right now, but despite that, he finds time for home teaching,” says Vlach.