PORTLAND — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has denied a final appeal by a national group lobbying against same-sex marriage to keep the names of those who donated in the runup to the 2009 Maine campaign from being released publicly.

In a unanimous decision released Thursday, Maine’s highest court rejected the argument by the National Organization for Marriage that releasing information about its donors to the Maine Ethics Commission would infringe on its First Amendment right of freedom to associate.

While the decision marked a final defeat for the National Organization for Marriage after years of legal battles, it likely will have little impact on the timetable of when the list of the organization’s donors will be made public.

The state ethics commission said last month when lawyers made oral arguments before the high court that the list of contributors’ names could be released in a matter of months regardless of the decision.

Maine voters approved gay marriage in 2012, but NOM continues to fight same-sex marriage legislation in other states throughout the country. I

As of this month, 12 states have legalized same-sex marriage — Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

NOM fought for more than three years to keep confidential the names of donors who helped bankroll its 2009 ballot campaign that overturned a state law allowing same-sex couples to marry.

The organization waged its legal fight on two fronts — in state court as well as federal court. It had already lost the federal case.

NOM was the largest donor to the 2009 campaign in Maine, giving $1.9 million to the political action committee Stand for Marriage Maine.

 

Maine’s ethics commission has been investigating whether the organization violated the state’s disclosure law by failing to register and file reports regarding fundraising and spending in the 2009 campaign, and it argued that NOM has stonewalled the commission ever since.

The commission is using the list of donors to determine whether the group should have registered as a political action committee

The U.S. Supreme Court refused in October to hear NOM’s appeal of the Maine law that would require the group to name its contributors. As a result, the organization was forced to release one list of donor names in January to the state ethics commission. The panel is barred from releasing the names before it completes its investigation of NOM’s refusal to comply.

Maine’s campaign disclosure law requires groups spending more than $5,000 to influence the outcome of referendum elections to register as ballot question committees with the state ethics commission. NOM’s legal challenge to the federal high court claimed the law is too vague and inhibits free speech by discouraging donations.

While Maine’s high court was considering NOM’s appeal, it refused to delay the release by NOM of donors who contributed $5,000 or more, a group covered by separate language in Maine’s disclosure law.

NOM’s attorney, Kaylan Phillips, confirmed last month that it had complied by releasing to the ethics commission a list of donations with the names of individual donors given as John Does.

Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of Maine’s ethics commission, said previously that NOM’s release of individual donation amounts allowed commission staff members to pick up their investigation into whether NOM violated state campaign law. However, state officials are barred from publicly releasing donor names while the investigation is ongoing, he said last month.

Reached by phone again on Thursday, Wayne said he has not seen the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision and could not respond to it. But he said the investigation is continuing.

“The commission’s staff would like to finish their investigation within the next two to three months and report back to the commission after receiving additional information and responses from the National Organization for Marriage,” Wayne said.

Phillips, based in Indiana, was out of her office Thursday and did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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