Schadenfreude alert: Anti-gay National Organization for Marriage deep in debt

Once touted as a social conservative powerhouse, the group is on the brink of financial collapse. But why?

Published November 20, 2014 4:38PM (EST)

NOM President Brian Brown       (Wikimedia Commons)
NOM President Brian Brown (Wikimedia Commons)

The National Organization for Marriage -- once touted as an anti-gay marriage political powerhouse -- finds itself on the brink of financial collapse, new figures show.

The indispensable Mark Joseph Stern runs down NOM's dismal numbers:

On Wednesday, the viciously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage finally released its 2013 tax filings—two days late, in direct violation of federal law. The results are nothing short of brutal. NOM raised $5.1 million last year—a 50 percent drop-off from its 2012 earnings. Two donors accounted for more than half of that money. And the group’s “Education Fund,” which churns out anti-gay propaganda and homophobic calumny, raised less than $1.7 million, a 70 percent decline from 2012. NOM closed out the year more than $2.5 million in debt.

How did the nation's leading anti-marriage equality organization land itself here? Stern offers three theories: donors recoiled when NOM devolved into increasingly visceral anti-gay rhetoric that proved so offensive even some true believers couldn't help but he embarrassed; supporters are less likely to contribute funds for fear they'll be exposed (nobody wants to go the way of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich); and that amid a wave of marriage equality victories, NOM's supporters just aren't all that interesting in throwing money at a lost cause anymore.

I'd add a fourth factor: the group has shown itself to be woefully politically ineffective.

Think about what an ideal political world would look like for NOM. Republicans would be nearly uniformly opposed to marriage equality. Democrats, being the party that tends to win LGBT voters, would support some form of recognition for same-sex couples, but same-sex marriage would be such a political third rail that they'd have to settle for something like civil unions or domestic partnership agreements. In other words, NOM's ideal world looks a lot like the world of 2003-2004.

But that isn't the world NOM is dealing with. Fast forward 10 years, and Democratic politicians show near-universal support for marriage equality, and public polling shows that a majority of Americans share their view. The vast majority of Republicans continue to oppose same-sex marriage, but marriage equality supporters include such mainstream conservatives as Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.

So how has NOM adapted to this brave new world?

Determined to reverse the tide of growing support for marriage equality, NOM has spent big on electing anti-gay primary challengers and general election candidates. In recent high-profile races, NOM an anti-gay primary challenger to pro-marriage GOP Rep. Richard Hanna of New York; Hanna fended off the NOM-backed candidate by six points. In 2013, NOM went all in trying to elect Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, who had endorsed reviving Virginia's anti-sodomy law, and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan of New Jersey, only to watch both candidates lose.

Underscoring the sad state of affairs with which NOM President Brian Brown is grappling, the group this year endorsed two pro-LGBT Democratic congressional candidates on the sole basis that their GOP opponents were gay -- and would, presumably, do greater damage to NOM's cause from inside the GOP majority than from the Democratic minority. Pathetic as it was, it was a reminder of how much a decade can change. It was just 10 years ago that Democrats were falling all over themselves to assure voters that they, like their GOP opponents, truly believed that marriage was the sacred union of a man and a woman; perhaps a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage went too far, but you got the idea.

Now, NOM is forced to calculate whether it would be more damaging to have a pro-LGBT Democrat in office -- or an openly gay Republican. This dilemma has led the group to make some bizarre choices, and the poor track records of prominent anti-gay candidates NOM has backed in hotly contested races should give donors pause before they open up their checkbooks to help keep hate afloat.

By Luke Brinker

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