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

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

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