AUGUSTA — The Maine ethics commission voted unanimously Wednesday to fine the National Organization for Marriage $2,000 for missing a campaign finance reporting deadline in the final weeks leading up to the vote on gay marriage.

By law, NOM was required to file its 11-day pre-general election report by midnight Oct. 26. The group filed the following day, missing the deadline by 14 hours.

Ethics commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said the commission could impose an $8,000 fine because of a formula allowed by state law, but recommended reducing it by 75 percent.

“The report was only 14 hours late and half of those happened in the night when members of the public weren’t on our website (looking for information),” Wayne said.

The report showed that NOM contributed $800,000 to Protect Marriage Maine, the leading anti-gay marriage group involved in the campaign on Question 1. In total, NOM contributed more than $1 million to the effort.

Earlier this month, Maine voters approved allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. The law is likely to take effect in early January.

It isn’t the first time NOM has been the subject of action by the ethics commission. In 2009, the panel voted to investigate the group because it raised and spent money to influence the gay marriage vote that year, but did not disclose its donors. Ethics staff have been unable to complete the investigation because NOM filed challenges to Maine law in state and federal courts.

While the federal courts have ruled that NOM must release a donor list for those who contributed to the 2009 Maine campaign, ethics commission staff are waiting for a resolution in a state-level case in which NOM is challenging investigative subpoenas issued by the commission. That is pending before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Wayne said.

Ethics commission member Andre Duchette asked Wednesday whether the commission could consider NOM’s refusal to disclose its donors in 2009 while setting the fine this year.

“I’m not overly sympathetic to NOM,” Duchette said.

Wayne said he felt the issues should be considered separately and commission chairman Walter McKee agreed.

“As much as we’ve had our struggles with NOM, I think we need to treat them fairly and consistently,” McKee said.

Brian Brown, president of NOM, said in a telephone interview following the decision that the group missed the deadline by mistake.

“It was nothing intentional,” he said. “Reducing (the fine) was appropriate. We’ll pay the fine and move on.”

In a related matter, the ethics commission delayed until next month consideration of a potential fine against L PAC, a national political action committee that supports same sex marriage. The group, which donated $40,000 to support gay marriage in Maine, failed to register with the state on time, and missed three deadlines. The staff is recommending a $1,106 fine.

The ethics panel is scheduled to consider the recommendation on Dec. 19.

Susan Cover — 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com