If John Eastman's appearance at the June 4 U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee hearing on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mischief against right-wing political groups had been sponsored by DreamWorks SKG, movie advertisements would have proclaimed, "Exhilarating," "Walloping Fun," "Two Thumbs Up" and, "Sure Academy Nominee for Best Actor."
When Eastman—a Chapman University law professor, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) chairman and repeated, losing candidate for public office—speaks, it's almost always theatrical. The 53-year-old activist doesn't need makeup. He's naturally equipped with deer-in-the-headlights eyes and a round, pale face that easily turns crimson; when combined with his premature white hair, he has the look of an eccentric, aged cherub.
But it's Eastman's oratory that's most entertaining. He claims he's living in an apocalyptic setting in which, as with any good summer blockbuster, good confronts evil. In the frequent AM-Christian-radio pontificator's mind, he's a fearless warrior for righteousness. Though he's presumably not yet armed with an AR-15, his arsenal is loaded with cash donations (more on that in a moment) and what he sees as impenetrable logic.
From his perch atop NOM, Eastman suggests gay marriage threatens the survival of humans, whose ranks have more than doubled on the planet since 1960. In 2012, he said what “flows” from traditional marriages “are children” and “we need children to perpetuate society.” During a March NPR interview, he ignored two key technicalities: matrimonial vows are hardly necessary to procreate, and no proposed gay-marriage law bans heterosexual intercourse. Having delved into make-believe territory, he then asserted that expanding marriage would destroy the one institution that “is uniquely capable of producing children.”
It takes a shameless scoundrel, especially for a man who wraps himself in a scholarly wardrobe, to try to convert a debate over marriage equality into a hysterical, non sequitur question about whether civilization wants to exterminate itself. But Eastman isn't just a professor. He's also a would-be Republican politician who has been trounced in efforts to become California's Attorney General, a race in which he called for armed revolution if gay couples are allowed to marry.
Eastman's self-promoting, gay-loathing instincts likely landed him at the House hearing on the IRS. Congressman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) called the session to hear testimony from—and I'll quote from the official notice—"organizations that were targeted as a part of the Internal Revenue Service's practice of discriminating against applicants for tax-exempt status based on their personal beliefs." Eastman's NOM isn't on that list; the group sailed through the tax-exempt application process.
But something happened in the 18 days between Camp's mid-May notice and the June hearing. The show got revamped, and the OC professor known for lobbing political grenades was not only flown into Washington, D.C., as a witness for a topic he couldn't address, but he was oddly given top billing, as well.
Deviating from the hearing topic, Eastman used the national stage to largely rehash an almost-18-month-old complaint that someone in the IRS leaked the confidential-donors portion of NOM's 2008 tax return to the Human Rights Campaign, and the pro-gay and lesbian rights group then posted that information on the Internet. Saying he didn't want any public confusion about events, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) asked the professor if he had "proof" someone in the IRS committed "a felony" against his group.
"That's correct," replied Eastman while relying on wishful thinking, a standard somewhat beneath clear and convincing. The professor claims his proof is that the supposedly leaked tax return has an IRS receipt stamp. In his prepared statement to the committee, he asserted that the stamp proves the document "originated from within the IRS," and therefore, its public revelation must have been "a willful, unauthorized disclosure" committed to harm pro-traditional-marriage efforts.
Never mind the fact that a group can obtain a copy of its return with the IRS stamp and thus someone inside NOM also could have leaked the stamped document. Eastman's sinister assertion has been contradicted by a prominent NOM ally. Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and the original chair person of the group's national board, used her National Review blog on May 10 to explain what really happened.
"You may recall that a low-level [IRS] employee also released NOM's private tax-return information to a guy claiming to be a NOM employee, who then posted it on the Internet," Gallagher wrote.
That plausible explanation robs Eastman of his IRS conspiracy theory and wasn't mentioned during the House hearing, during saccharine FOX News interviews or in the group's plentiful direct-mail cries for donations to combat the alleged evil plot against them from within Barack Obama's federal government.
Instead, Eastman doubled down on the victimization act. The supposed IRS conspiracy was designed to subject the group's secret donors to harassment, cripple fund-raising efforts and make gay marriage legal, according to the professor. Given that he failed to elaborate on a single instance of that alleged harassment, Representative Tom Price (R-Pennsylvania) probably thought he was doing NOM a favor by asking Eastman to explain "how the [tax-return leaked] donors had been harassed."
The professor again suspiciously didn't—couldn't?—name a single instance to support his contention. He began his reply by saying he'd "first" describe the harassment anti-gay marriage supporters allegedly endured half a decade ago during the Proposition 8 battle in California. He ended his remarks two minutes later without answering Price's question.
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But perhaps Eastman's biggest deceit at the hearing was casting NOM as law-abiding. For years, the group has flagrantly ignored long-established state laws requiring disclosure of major political financial activities. In 2008, for example, NOM spent almost $2 million to overturn Maine's gay-marriage law and, unlike its campaign opponents, refused to file accurate reports for public inspection. The tactic caused Laguna Beach gay-rights activist and former Ronald Reagan campaign adviser Fred Karger, head of Rights Equal Rights, to file a complaint.
Eastman claims NOM's political donors—people such as Mitt Romney and groups including the Mormon Church—should be veiled in secrecy on par with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Alabama membership list that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1950s could be confidential in part because police and white supremacists were savagely beating and murdering NAACP activists. More than a half-dozen times, the ethics commission and Supreme Court, as well as a federal appellate judge, have forcefully rejected NOM's preposterous attempt to equate its situation to civil-rights-era violence. Tellingly, even the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court refuses to entertain the argument.
When Eastman is done with his theatrics, he should take a hint from a larger-than-life conservative darling. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia observed in a 2010 opinion, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed." Scalia added that attempts to expand political secrecy and be "protected from the accountability of criticism" are inconsistent with a nation that hails itself as the "Home of the Brave."
For the chest-thumping, Bible-waving Chapman prof, Scalia's last line must have felt emasculating.