Keith Eddings email@example.com
A national organization headed by an Ossining woman that has pledged to spend more than $1 million to defeat a gay marriage bill in New York is defending itself in California against allegations that it was organized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to defeat similar bills nationwide.
The National Organization for Marriage said last week that it would spend $500,000 to help mount primary challenges against Republican state senators in New York who vote for a gay marriage bill proposed by Gov. David Paterson. It has passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate, as Democrats and Republicans fight for control of that chamber.
The spending would come atop $600,000 the group says it has spent on media campaigns and telephone calls to sway senators in 25 Senate districts, including those represented by Sens. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, and Thomas Morahan, R-New City.
NOM says it has spent $6 million to block gay marriage in several states since it was organized in 2007, including $1.8 million to place an amendment on the ballot in California that repealed gay marriage there last year.
The campaign to repeal same-sex marriage in California was fueled in large part by the Mormon church. Critics in that state say the church began the effort by recruiting Maggie Gallagher of Ossining – who has forged a career writing about marriage for conservative think tanks – to establish NOM.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating complaints that NOM operates as a front for the Mormon church and that the church failed to report millions of dollars in nonmonetary contributions to the campaign.
The complaint was lodged by Los Angeles gay rights activist Fred Karger, who formed Californians Against Hate to protect gay marriage in the state.
“The church is the marionette, the puppeteer, of Maggie and Brian,” Karger said, referring to Gallagher, who is NOM’s president, and Brian Brown, its executive director. “The evidence is clear that the Mormon church is 100 percent behind the National Organization for Marriage and its funding.”
Gallagher said there is no connection between NOM and the church except that a Mormon serves on NOM’s board. She said she started NOM and recruited Brown to run it because conservative ministries, think tanks and charities that oppose gay marriage are not positioned to fight it on the ballot and in state capitols.
“I would not shy away from telling you if a group of Catholics and a group of Mormons founded NOM,” Gallagher said. “It’s not true. I founded NOM. I’d be happy to work with Mormons, but NOM was not started at the suggestion of Salt Lake. But I’d be OK with it if it was true.”
Once before, Gallagher faced allegations of a cover-up about who funds her work for conservative causes. In 2005, she acknowledged receiving at least $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services to write brochures and other material promoting the Bush administration’s marriage initiatives.
Gallagher also advocated for the Bush initiatives in a syndicated column she writes for Universal Press, but did not disclose the HHS payments. She said she earned the payments legitimately but conceded that she should have disclosed them in her column.
Karger has no smoking-gun evidence tying NOM to the Mormon church, but said the relationship would be exposed if the California Fair Political Practices Commission responds to his complaint by issuing subpoenas for church records. He said he believes the relationship exists because the Mormon campaign against gay marriage in California mimicked what he called its undercover campaign to overturn a court ruling allowing gay marriage in Hawaii in the 1990s.
On his Web site, californiansag.wpengine.com, Karger posts documents revealing how Mormons created a group called Hawaii’s Future Today in 1995 and covered up the group’s roots in a church many Americans are uneasy about. The documents detail how the church recruited non-Mormons as figureheads for the effort, while installing a Mormon on the board, and dodged financial disclosure requirements about its spending.
“We have organized things so the Church contribution was used in an area of coalition activity that does not have to be reported,” church Elder Loren Dunn said in a June 5, 1996, memo to a church committee overseeing the effort. He added that a campaign leader was avoiding reporters who were asking about church spending on the Hawaii marriage bill.
Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the church in Salt Lake City, responded to a question about the authenticity of the memos by e-mailing this statement: “Mr. Karger is entitled to his opinion but not to his own version of the facts.” She would not elaborate.
Farah said the church “did not establish the National Organization for Marriage.” She did not respond to a question about whether the Mormon church has been active in the campaigns to defeat gay marriage in New England and New York.
In April, as NOM was launching its $600,000 media and phone campaign in New York, Karger launched his own low-budget media campaign in the state and New England in ads on news organizations’ Web sites. The ads, called “The Mormons Are Coming!” and set to the tune of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” plays on New England’s historic unease with the Mormon church. Several news organizations, including the (Albany) Times Union, rejected it.
“To attack, harass and intimidate any one religious faith and say they don’t have a right to participate in the process I think is profoundly anti-American,” said Brown, NOM’s executive director. “A lot of what Fred is trying to do is to intimidate Mormons – especially – out of supporting marriage, and it’s wrong.”
“I’ve never questioned the right of the Mormon religion or any religion to be involved in the political process,” Karger said. “All I’ve said is, if they are going to participate, they need to abide by the election laws. I believe there’s a lot more there. I don’t believe Brian or Maggie are telling the truth.”