A national anti-gay marriage group that wants to run political ads unencumbered by some election law requirements amped up its fight Thursday in two states, including New York, where Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has taken heat for opposing same-sex marriage.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage has filed several lawsuits around the country, inspired in part by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that made it easier for corporations and unions to spend money in elections.
A major financial backer of campaigns opposing same-sex marriage, the group has said it wants to use radio and TV ads and direct mailing in governor races and legislative elections.
In Buffalo on Thursday, a federal judge reserved decision after a NOM lawyer argued it would be unconstitutional to regulate the group as a political committee because it's not controlled by a candidate and doesn't spend most of its money on candidates.
Meanwhile in Providence, a judge said the group could go ahead with ads in Rhode Island as long as it reports how much it's spending.
According to court papers, one of the prepared ads features a girl named Emily saying that she learned in school "about a prince who married a prince."
"And I can marry a princess!" she says.
"Kids have enough to deal with already, without pushing gay marriage on them," the narrator says. The New York version urges listeners to vote for Paladino, who polls show is trailing Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
"This case is not about marriage," New York NOM attorney Randy Elf told U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara in Buffalo. "Instead, it's about free speech."
Outside the courtroom, Elf said his arguments could apply to any organization, including ones that advocate same-sex marriage. Under New York election law, he said, any organization that spends $1,000 on express advocacy is considered a political committee and is subject to cumbersome reporting requirements.
"This case isn't about disclosing donors. The challenge is whether it's constitutional to regulate organizations as full-fledged political committees," he said.
An attorney for state elections officials said treating NOM differently than the other 10,000 or so political committees in New York this close to Nov. 2 "would turn the statewide election on its head."
"The Board of Elections wants a transparent, clean election," attorney Ken Manning said, "and they feel that outweighs the plaintiff's interest in secrecy."
In Rhode Island, Judge Mary Lisi said that since NOM does not plan to work in concert with a particular candidate or party, its ads are properly classified as "independent expenditures" under state law. There's no limit or ban on such expenditures, and the only requirement is a simple form requiring a group that plans to spend more than $100 to list the date, amount and purpose of the expense.
"It informs the populace, the voting public, as to who you are," Lisi said, later adding that she did not consider the expenditure requirement onerous.
NOM recently lost its legal challenge in Maine, Elf said, but it's appealing. At least one other lawsuit, in Florida, is pending.
Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report from Providence.