A leading opponent of the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland used a high-profile congressional hearing Tuesday to allege that the Internal Revenue Service leaked a list of its donors to an adversarial group just as it was mounting a campaign to put gay marriage on the ballot.
John C. Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, told the House Ways and Means Committee that the disclosure of its tax records last year may have chilled potential donors. He called on lawmakers to investigate how the documents became public.
"You can imagine our shock and disgust over this," said Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University in California. "We jealously guard our donors as almost every other nonprofit does, particularly on the issues that we deal with, which are so contentious."
The group — which has fought efforts to recognize same-sex marriage in several states — has made the allegation before. But it received a new level of attention Tuesday as Congress continued for a fourth week to investigate the IRS targeting of conservative groups that were seeking nonprofit status.
Eastman was one of six conservative leaders who testified at a hearing that at times became emotional as witnesses described how they felt intimidated by the IRS review of their organizations.
Republicans said they believe the problems are more extensive then was disclosed in a report by the IRS inspector general last month.
Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the chairman of the committee, said the witnesses represented "but a small sample of Americans who have been treated differently and discriminated against by their government because of their individual, deeply held beliefs.
"There are many, many more," he said.
Democrats expressed outrage over the scandal and described the witnesses of Tuesday's hearing as victims, but they also began for the first time to push back on GOP attempts to tie the scandal to President Barack Obama.
Several noted that the IRS also targeted liberal groups, though Democrats did not invite any to testify.
"Some of my Republican colleagues have been working overtime to try to paint this as a political conspiracy by the White House," said Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat. "There is no evidence tying this to the White House."
The New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage gave $1.2 million to the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which sought to rally opposition to same-sex marriage in Maryland.
The pro-gay-marriage group Human Rights Campaign posted the NOM's 2008 tax records online last March, days after Gov. Martin O'Malley signed Maryland's gay marriage law.
At the time, opponents of same-sex marriage were preparing a petition drive to put the law before voters on the November ballot.
Marylanders ultimately voted 52 percent to 48 percent to approve the law, and gay couples began marrying in January.
A spokesman at the Human Rights Campaign, which was also involved in Maryland's same-sex marriage fight and contributed money to the effort, did not respond to requests for comment.
Opponents have noted the group was led by a co-chair of Obama's re-election campaign at the time the documents were posted.
An IRS spokesman, reached after the hearing, pointed to congressional testimony last month in which the agency's former commissioner, Steven T. Miller, told lawmakers that the disclosure and others like it were "inadvertent."
Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and a leader of the gay-marriage effort in Annapolis, said the disclosure of the group's finances "had absolutely no impact one way or the other on the outcome of the legislation or the outcome of the election."
But the disclosure did play a role in last year's presidential election. The documents showed that a group tied to Republican nominee Mitt Romney had given $10,000 to the group.