The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

March 31, 2010
Republican Tom Campbell really irritates some Republicans

 NOM Ad.jpg

By attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, the National Organization for Marriage is getting what it might see as a twofer.

The conservative nonprofit corporation based in New Jersey has assumed a leading role in the national attack on same-sex marriage, airing an ad that challenges Campbell over his support of the right of all adults to marry, as we note in today's Bee.

The National Organization for Marriage also is a plaintiff in lawsuits in California and elsewhere challenging campaign finance laws.

In his days in Congress and after, Campbell was a prominent backer of campaign finance restrictions, including the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which sought to restrict on campaign spending--and has been the focus of legal challenges primarily by conservatives.

Under federal law, donors who fund politically active nonprofit corporations such as National Organization for Marriage can maintain their anonymity.

"They're like drive-by shootings by people who don't have the guts to put their mouth where there money is," Campbell's campaign manager, Ray McNally, said of ads aired by such groups. "There's a reason they want to stay hidden, because they're usually doing somebody else's dirty work, and it often has nothing to do with the issue that's being exploited."

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission in January opened the way for unlimited corporate donations to independent campaign operations. The ruling also permits more direct involvement in electoral politics by groups such National Organization for Marriage.

In California, National Organization for Marriage raised $1.8 million to promote Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that repealed the California Supreme Court decision that permitted same-sex marriage. Under California law, it was required to disclose its donors. It raised $1.6 million to back a similar measure, Question 1, in Maine last year.

It has filed a suit pending in federal court in Sacramento to invalidate requirements that it disclose donors under state law. The group also is suing in Maine over a demand that it disclose donors.

In each case, its attorney is James Bopp, Jr., of Terra Haute, Indiana.

The mastermind of challenges across the nation against campaign finance restrictions, Bopp is vice chairman of Republican National Committee, and represents the Right to Life Committee, Focus on the Family, Club for Growth, and other conservative groups.

Bopp told The Swarm that he has 28 cases pending in various courts, including one that will be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in April. He recently won a federal court ruling in San Diego tossing out aspects of that city's campaign finance law. Here's a recent piece in the Washington Post about him.

"No one should have to contact a lawyer to find out whether it is OK to talk about the government or politicians, or what they're doing to us or for us," Bopp said, explaining the reason for challenging campaign finance laws.

Bopp said that while there is "justification" for identifying large donors to some ballot measure campaigns, broad disclosure requirements can restrict free speech because it can subject contributors to harassment. Others say big donors enter the political fray willingly.

"Even if this [California] law is constitutional," Bopp said, "NOM is entitled to an exemption from disclosure of all contributors because of harassment and how they were victimized by homosexual advocates."

Campbell takes a different view. There are times when hiding donors' identity is reasonable. Sixty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted the NAACP to shield its donors. But back then, there were church bombings, lynchings and shootings. Harassment in the Proposition 8 campaign hardly rose to that level.

"Disclosure is hugely valuable in public life," Campbell said. 

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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