Had the news that Mitt Romney made a $10,000 donation to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage come out a month ago instead of on Friday, it might have helped him. After all, Romney has made no secret of his opposition to same-sex marriage—indeed, he joined Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum in signing NOM’s anti-gay-marriage pledge. His financial support for NOM might have bolstered him with suspicious social conservatives, and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone else.
But that was before Monday, when the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign obtained secret NOM memos outlining a cynical strategy to sow racial division and encourage kids to denounce their gay parents. “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies,” said one of the memos. “We aim to find, equip, energize, and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage, to develop a media campaign around their objections to marriage as a civil right; and to provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”
The documents laid out a plan to persuade Latino voters that opposition to gay marriage is a badge of cultural authenticity, which seems particularly hypocritical given the right’s usual disdain for multiculturalism. “Our ultimate goal is to make opposition to gay marriage an identity marker, a badge of youth rebellion to conformist assimilation to the bad side of ‘Anglo’ culture,” one of the memos said. Most shocking of all, NOM budgeted $120,000 for an outreach coordinator “to identify the children of gay parents willing to speak on camera,” suggesting an eagerness to rip gay families apart.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, after it published the National Organization for Marriage memos, a whistleblower came forward with copies of NOM tax forms that showed Romney’s connection to the group.
As a 501(c)(4), NOM has to file a form with the IRS that lists its donors. In the public version of the form, the donors’ names are redacted. When the Human Rights Campaign got a copy of the nonredacted version, it listed $10,000 from Romney’s PAC, Free and Strong America. The PAC’s tax records, though, showed no such donation. Eventually, the Human Rights Campaign determined that the money came from the PAC’s Alabama affiliate, suggesting an attempt to evade scrutiny. “Clearly there was a strategy here to conceal,” says Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president.
Given recent revelations about NOM, liberal operatives see an opportunity to discomfit Romney and, once the general election is underway, paint him as a right-wing extremist. “As a leading contender for president of the United States, for him to be funding a group whose strategy memos lay out such a hateful way to divide African-Americans and the LGBT community, it’s shocking,” says Chris Harris, communications director of American Bridge 21st Century, the super PAC founded by Media Matters’ David Brock. “When he initially donated in 2008, he may not have known that this is their strategy, but as a political leader and as an opinion leader, he has a responsibility to speak out and condemn their intention of dividing Americans.”
The group has started a petition demanding that Romney distance himself from NOM, something he seems to have no intention of doing. “Gov. Romney believes marriage is an institution between a man and a woman, and his PAC made a donation to a group supporting that view,” a campaign spokesperson told The Washington Post Friday.
Should Romney’s NOM ties work against him, few will be happier than Fred Karger, the former GOP dirty trickster turned gay-rights activist who is running a quixotic campaign for the Republican nomination. Part of the reason Karger entered the race in the first place was because he hoped to embarrass Romney for the role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has played in funding anti-gay initiatives nationwide.
Karger first became aware of that role while examining the funding for California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. Many of the donors, he found, had only contributed to one other political cause—the Romney campaign. Eventually, he says, he discovered that Mormons, who comprise 2 percent of California’s population, provided around three quarters of the money raised to support Proposition 8. (He figured heavily in the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition.) Soon, he became convinced that if the LDS church’s anti-gay activity came to be seen as harmful to the Romney campaign, the church would back off.
As it happens, it was Karger who set in motion the events that led to the revelation of the secret National Organization for Marriage documents. In 2009 he filed a complaint with the Maine State Ethics Commission because NOM wasn’t listing individual contributors to its efforts in the state, as required by Maine law. (NOM was so determined not to reveal its donors that it fought Maine’s campaign-finance requirements all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected its appeal.) The NOM memos came to light as a result of the Maine-government investigation.
Karger says he had nothing to do with digging up the 990 that links Romney to the National Organization for Marriage, though he’s certainly pleased at the way the whole thing is developing. “It is kind of an interesting turn of events, I’ll say that,” he says, chuckling.