The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has dismissed two complaints against anti-gay marriage organizations over an ad campaign last fall.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, the Campaign Finance board dismissed the complaints brought by nonprofit Common Cause Minnesota, which alleged that the Minnesota Family Council (MFC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) teamed up on an ad buy last fall to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and both failed to properly report their activities.
In particular, Mike Dean of Common Cause said Tom Prichard, a registered lobbyist for MFC, failed to report expenses related to the ad buy in the group’s campaign finance report. The two organizations released five commercials total, and in every ad but one, a message at the end stated that it was paid for by the MFC and NOM.
Prichard did not disclose those costs, but that’s because the MFC didn’t actually pay for any of the ads, Prichard’s attorneys told the board. The costs were covered entirely by NOM, and the council did not agree to reimburse the group. While the board ruled that the MFC did lend its name to the advertisements, there’s no reason to believe it paid for any of them.
A second complaint targeted NOM, alleging that the ad buys were indented to “influence legislation,” and thus the organization should have registered as a lobbyist in the state. But the board ruled that unless the group is fighting a particular candidate, its ad buys do not constitute lobbying.
“In Minnesota an association with a major purpose of something other than influencing elections (which NOM presumably purports to be) is brought into the statutory campaign finance disclosure system only if it makes expenditures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate,” the ruling reads. “It has been the Board’s position that the statutory requirement for express advocacy requires the use of words such as ‘elect,’ ‘vote for,’ ‘vote against,’ and similar terms.”