The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has admitted — after months of secrecy — that Penn National Gaming paid for a summer mailing that sought to mobilize supporters of Maryland's marriage equality bill against a gambling expansion measure in the state.
In a Friday, Oct. 12, filing with the Maryland State Board of Elections, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund acknowledged that Penn National, which has spent millions of dollars opposing this fall's ballot measure to expand gambling in the state, gave an "in-kind contribution" of $343,125 for "vendor mailing costs" for the mailer.
The Aug. 8 mailing to Maryland Democrats urged those who support marriage equality in the state to call their elected lawmakers to tell them to oppose a gambling expansion measure that was going to be considered in a special session of the Assembly that was beginning the next day. Repeated questions to the Task Force about the source of funding for the mailer went unanswered, but the Oct. 12 filing confirms what had been rumored for months: A group with gaming interests in the state had funded the mailer.
Because of the way Maryland election law works, however, the Task Force Action Fund's registration as independent expenditure committee meant that Penn National Gaming was effectively able to hide this expenditure during the time the legislature considered whether to press forward with the measure.
The legislation in question passed in August and the measure will be appearing as Question 7 on the November ballot alongside the Question 6 referendum on the state's marriage equality bill, but Task Force's refusal to answer questions about the funding of the mailer continued throughout the summer and into the fall. As recently as Oct. 8, BuzzFeed had asked the Task Force about the funding for the mailer but was told only, "We'll be putting out additional information later this week as the Maryland reporting is due."
The Task Force put out no information about the filing. BuzzFeed discovered the filing through a search of the state's public campaign finance database.
The filing, however, does not answer all of the questions raised in recent months.
On Aug. 9, BuzzFeed was told only that the "National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund Maryland Political Action Committee" funded the mailer. BuzzFeed later reported that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund Maryland Political Action Committee, whose treasurer was listed on the mailer and with the state as Bradley Carlson, actually was registered with the state as an independent expenditure entity.
The Oct. 12 filing was not filed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund Maryland Political Action Committee, but was instead filed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund. The treasurer listed on the filing is Brian Johnson. It is not clear why the changes were made between the initial filing and the Oct. 12 filing.
On Aug. 13, BuzzFeed asked the Task Force's communications director, Inga Sarda-Sorensen, "Did anyone with gambling interests or with clients with gambling interests provide the funding for this mailer?" Over the period between the delivery of the mailer and the Oct. 12 filing, every BuzzFeed inquiry to Task Force officials about the funding of the mailer resulted in a response similar to this mid-August response provided by Task Force deputy executive director Darlene Nipper, "This mailer, which was funded by the Task Force Action Fund, is part of the effort to get marriage equality over the finish line in Maryland by advocating that an uncluttered ballot provides for the best chance for securing marriage equality this November." (Task Force executive director Rea Carey was on a sabbatical when the mailing was sent but has since returned to her duties.)
Among those who questioned the Task Force's actions are Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who supports the gambling expansion measure. He told BuzzFeed in September, "I think they got spun. They had some board members that had a conflict of interest with the gaming companies, and they got a bit spun on that and hopefully they’ve learned from the experience."
Then, earlier this month, Maryland State Sen. C. Anthony Muse went into more detail about the issue to The Washington Post. According to the Post, "Muse, who opposes the ballot measure, said that [Penn National's Steven] Snyder told him Penn had given money for the mailer to the DCI Group, a Washington-based consulting group, which in turn gave funds to the Task Force for the mailer." Monique Hall, a vice president at DCI Group, sits on the Task Force Action Fund board, a fact the Task Force confirmed as of Oct. 8.
Additionally, though, the Post reported that Penn National Gaming reported on an ethics form due several weeks after the legislative session that it gave "more than $1 million to the DCI Group. At the time, Karen Bailey, a Penn spokeswoman, declined to detail what DCI did with the money." The Task Force Action Fund's Oct. 12 filing, however, does not mention DCI Group. It instead denotes the "in-kind contribution" came directly from Penn National Gaming.
The Oct. 12 filing states that the Task Force Action Fund has had no other reportable activity in Maryland since the August mailing other than the $343,125 in-kind contribution from Penn National.