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Group spent $160K to get Md. same-sex marriage law to a vote

Parrott-led MdPetitions.com spent $56K on petition drive opposing congressional redistricting plan

July 19, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Much more money flowed through two successful statewide petition drives this year than a similar effort last year.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance spent more than $160,000 on collecting enough signatures to force a referendum on Maryland’s new same-sex marriage law, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by The Herald-Mail.

MdPetitions.com, a group led by state Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, spent about $56,000 this year on a petition effort against Maryland’s new congressional boundaries map.

In contrast, MdPetitions.com spent about $9,500 last year to force a referendum on Maryland’s new law granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants.

All three issues — same-sex marriage, congressional boundaries and in-state tuition — are scheduled to be on the ballot for a statewide vote in November.

To qualify for a referendum, organizers had to collect at least 55,736 valid signatures for each issue, which is 3 percent of the number of people who voted for governor in the last election.

For the same-sex marriage petition drive, the Maryland State Board of Elections approved more than 109,000 signatures — about twice as many as were needed. The board then stopped reviewing and validating signatures, even though organizers had submitted tens of thousands more.

The congressional redistricting petition drive was successful by a slimmer margin — 59,085 signatures had been accepted and 7,653 rejected as of Monday, according to the state Board of Elections.

Under state law, the two groups organizing petition drives were to submit those financial reports to the board of elections.

“Once the petition is successful on placing the measure on the ballot, the organization does not need to file any more petition fund reports,” Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, wrote in an email.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance describes itself as a nonpartisan “interfaith coalition dedicated to preserving the traditional definition of marriage in Maryland law.”

It led the petition drive against the same-sex marriage law, with support from MdPetitions.com.

One of the alliance’s campaign finance reports shows that it owes MdPetitions.com $74,530.50.

Parrott said Monday that MdPetitions.com had a contract with the Maryland Marriage Alliance to perform duties associated with the petition drive, such as mailings and reviews.

The amount also includes the cost of renting space at 1101 Frederick St. in Hagerstown and hiring Jeffrey Isbell as a coordinator, neither of which MdPetitions.com would have needed if it only was working on the same-sex marriage petition drive, Parrott said.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance hasn’t paid off the debt yet, but MdPetitions.com will give the alliance time to raise the money, Parrott said.

Derek McCoy, director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, couldn’t be reached for comment.

From Feb. 24 through June 23, the Maryland Marriage Alliance took in more than $85,000 for the petition effort, campaign finance reports show. Contributions came from numerous states, such as New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, California and Kentucky. About one fifth of the money — $16,000 — came from the alliance itself.

The alliance also accepted in-kind contributions worth $12,575 from itself and $48,750 from the National Organization for Marriage in Washington, D.C. In-kind contributions are not counted as monetary contributions.

Reports show that the alliance spent about $74,000 on the petition drive and incurred another $88,000 in debt, including nearly $75,000 it owes MdPetitions.com.

The alliance can continue raising money to pay off its debt and does not have to submit financial reports outlining its fundraising for that effort, according to DeMarinis.

But if the Alliance or MdPetitions.com start raising money to campaign for the November referendum votes, they would have to form a ballot committee and document receipts and expenses, DeMarinis said.

MdPetitions.com’s reports show that it took in about $55,000 from March 1 through June 30 for the congressional redistricting petition drive. The group spent about $52,000 and had nearly $5,000 of debt.

Almost of its donors are from Maryland. Parrott said the group mailed blank petitions, along with fundraising appeals, as one way to raise money.

At the end of last year’s in-state tuition petition drive, MdPetitions.com was listed as having nearly $12,000 in cash left. Parrott said that money might be transferred to a campaign fund this year to help get out the vote.

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The Maryland Marriage Alliance and MdPetitions.com were required to submit financial reports documenting the money they took in and spent on two petition drives this year.

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