Holy War: Inside the Crusade to Kill Maryland’s New Marriage-Equality Law

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Oct. 3, 2012


Maryland holds a special place in the legal history of same-sex marriage in America. In 1973, Maryland lawmakers reacted to marriage attempts by same-sex couples by enacting the nation’s first state law defining marriage as occurring between one man and one woman—what has since been dubbed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which became federal law in 1996.

This year, nearly two generations later, Maryland reversed course and passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act (CMPA), legalizing same-sex marriages. While public polls show it is increasingly popular nationwide and in Maryland, same-sex marriage is anathema to many for whom the Bible, which frowns on homosexuality, is “The Word,” setting God’s laws for all people. And for them, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is the best hope for keeping the biblical basis for marriage on the law books in Maryland and wherever else it is threatened.

Since forming in 2007 to back California’s Proposition 8, the successful constitutional-amendment referendum to end same-sex marriages there, NOM has been the driving force to keep gays and lesbians from gaining or maintaining the legal right to marry in America. With the passage of the CMPA in Maryland, NOM’s well-honed organizational prowess has come to the state in the form of the Maryland Marriage Alliance (MMA), on whose three-member board sits NOM’s executive director, Brian S. Brown.

MMA and NOM donated more than four-fifths of the money raised to support the highly successful petition drive that landed the CMPA on the Nov. 6 ballot as Question 6, which will decide whether the law survives. And MMA is the main group—joined by one other, Jump the Broom for Marriages (JBM)—registered to raise and spend campaign funds to defeat Question 6. The first campaign-finance reports of the ballot battle are due in October, so who’s raising and spending how much, and where the money’s coming from, remains to be seen.

In each of the 32 times same-sex marriage questions were on state ballots around the country, they have failed, and those opposed are determined to make sure that happens again this year in Maryland, as well as in the other three states—Maine, Minnesota, and Washington—that have ballot questions on the issue on Nov. 6.

The question is: How far will NOM, MMA, and JBM go in their attempt to kill the new law, given that polling shows a majority of Marylanders support gay marriage and a dwindling number oppose it?

The answer may never be entirely clear, since NOM goes to great lengths in its attempts to protect how it raises and spends money from public scrutiny. But based on NOM’s past conduct, its time-tested partnerships with anti-gay-marriage leaders in Maryland, and JBM’s ties to a Maryland political mover-and-shaker with scandal in his past, expect anti-gay-marriage tactics to get ugly in Maryland.

The ugliness has already shown its face in the rhetoric of NOM-tied preachers in Maryland. Perhaps the boldest statements have come from Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, where MMA Executive Director Derek McCoy is associate pastor. Jackson has linked gay marriage with “a Satanic plot to destroy our seed.”

Among longtime opponents of gay marriage in Maryland, such as state Del. Donald Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County)—who has introduced legislation each year for nearly a decade that would make DOMA an amendment to the Maryland Constitution—and Michael Peroutka of the Institute on the Constitution (IOTC), a longtime Dwyer supporter, the use of venom against gays and lesbians is particularly overt.

In a February column on the IOTC’s web site, the American View, Peroutka praises Dwyer “valiantly fighting the desperate efforts of the sodomite lobby in Annapolis to redefine the God-given and God-ordained institution of marriage.” He then goes on to thank Dwyer for the way he testified against the CMPA, since it helped Peroutka realize something “that had eluded me.” That something was this, as memorialized in Dwyer’s written testimony:

“The reason why it is so desperately important to homosexuals to redefine marriage has little to do with ‘fairness’ and much to do with gaining access to straight, normal, decent Maryland children. . . . You see, homosexuals can’t reproduce. So they must recruit. The best place to recruit is in schools where they can have unfettered access to children. . . . Stripped of all its phony ‘fairness’ language, what is being pushed is nothing short of government-authorized perversion of Maryland children. It’s a license for child abuse.”

In August, Bishop Jackson echoed this point at Glenn Beck’s “Under God: Indivisible” conference in Texas, saying, in connection with the gay marriage issue, that “folks who cannot reproduce want to recruit your kids.”

After the CMPA passed in Annapolis, Peroutka wrote a column entitled “Maryland Legislature Commits Suicide.” In it, he concluded that “no earthly government body can redefine marriage any more than it can redefine the law of gravity” and that “no matter how much ink gets spilled on paper in Annapolis, no change has occurred in either the laws of gravity or the definition of marriage. . . . Until this Governor is impeached and until this legislature is recalled and replaced with citizens who know the law and the limits of civil jurisdiction, there is no reason to consider this a valid legislature or this a legitimate governor. Other than fear, I can think of no reason to further obey their dictates.”

In this environment among opponents of gay marriage, it was hardly surprising when Dennis Leatherman, pastor of the Mountain Lake Independent Baptist Church in Oakland, Md., said of gays during a May sermon: “Kill them all. Right? I will be very honest with you. My flesh kind of likes that idea.” Then he backed off, noting that such a notion “violates Scripture. It is wrong.”

On the other side of the marriage-equality question, potent backing for Question 6 has been found among prominent African-American pastors who agree with the Maryland NAACP, as well as its branches in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, that marriage equality is a civil rights issue. Many of them gathered to speak in support of Question 6 at a Sept. 21 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The roster of African-American luminaries from churches across the country who came to the event included well-known names among the faithful, such as Dr. Otis Moss III, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; Dr. Amos C. Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco; Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas; and Dr. Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. Their arguments invoked the “equal protection under the law” clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—the same clause that undergirded the legal arguments for civil rights causes that were so bitterly fought in U.S. history—and stressed the tradition of separation of church and state, pointing out that civil laws and religious tenets best not intermingle, including in questions of marriage.

All spoke passionately, with concise, tightly hewn moral and theological logic. The marquee name at the event was Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered a short homily, pointing out that he’s been for same-sex marriage since 2003. But perhaps the tightest, most moving statement came from someone who may not be a household name: Dr. Brad R. Braxton of the Open Church in Baltimore.

“My support of marriage equality is an endorsement of justice and love,” Braxton began. “Marriage can be a moral good,” he continued, and “denying access to the fullness of that moral good on the basis of sexual orientation is politically unjust and morally inappropriate.” After acknowledging the diversity of views on the issue and emphasizing that they “need to be discussed and debated in a respectful manner,” Braxton said, “my enthusiastic support of this legislation is rooted in a sense of political justice.” He invoked the past, saying that “as an African-American Christian pastor and theologian, I feel a moral obligation to advocate for marriage equality” because “in this country’s history, African-Americans were once denied the right to marry and form families. As a descendent of people who were denied these rights, why would I want to deny gay and lesbian people these rights?”

Finally, Braxton spoke of the power and goodness of love. “Marriage equality is a celebration of love,” he said, and “in light of the hatred and hostility in our world, we should celebrate and protect the political right of two consenting adults to unite in love to form a family. Surely, relationships rooted in love, irrespective of one’s sexual orientation, strengthen the body politic and enhance the common good. If we genuinely want liberty and justice for all, then it is crucial for voters in Maryland to vote ‘Yes’ on Question 6 on this year’s ballot. A ‘Yes’ vote affirms that the small word—‘all’—is really big enough to include everyone.”

Other than engaging in the battle of words that marks any policy debate, opponents of same-sex marriage also employ litigation, which NOM has undertaken readily in other states—and which MMA has already put to use in Maryland.

Though only five years old, NOM has sued five times in federal court: in California, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Florida. Each time, it sought to overturn aspects of the states’ election laws in order to avoid campaign-finance reporting requirements, and each time, it failed. On its legal team for each case was James Bopp, the attorney who started the successful Citizens United lawsuit that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to super PACs, which are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money in politics.

So far, NOM and MMA have not attempted to undermine Maryland’s campaign-finance laws in the courts. But in August, MMA filed a lawsuit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, seeking to replace the ballot language of Question 6 and replace it with its own proposed language. In addition to MMA, the plaintiffs were its executive director and board member, Derek McCoy, and state Del. Emmett C. Burns (D-10th District), a Baltimore pastor. They withdrew their complaint in September, but what it says reveals much about how anti-Question 6 forces feel about the law they want overturned.

The approved ballot language for Question 6 reads:

Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

Here is the language MMA proposed in its lawsuit:

Redefines marriage as between one man and one woman to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry; exposes clergy and certain non-profit charitable organizations which are not operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization to liability for refusing to perform same-sex marriage against their religious convictions; only provides limited exceptions to clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; provides no protection for religious or other non-profit organizations that receive State and/or Federal funding for its programs from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; provides for a criminal charge of misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to a fine of up to $500.00.

The differences between the two are stark. The approved language emphasizes that clergy and religious organizations are explicitly protected from liability should they choose not to marry gay and lesbian couples. But the proposed MMA language says that’s not so, claiming that the law “exposes” clergy and others who perform marriage ceremony to liability, including criminal prosecution.

The only provisions for criminal penalties in the CMPA, though, pertain to individuals who marry their relatives. There is nothing in the law suggesting clergy or others who conduct marriage ceremonies are liable for anything, criminally or otherwise. That hasn’t stopped MMA from suggesting otherwise by using rhetorical devices designed to shed doubt on anything Question 6 supporters say.

On Sept. 23, after MMA dropped its lawsuit over the Question 6 language, McCoy took the stage at Manna Bible Baptist Church in Baltimore to speak about the law and MMA’s drive to defeat it. In the speech, which was posted on YouTube, McCoy admitted that the new law won’t penalize pastors and churches that don’t perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

“What you’re going to hear is, ‘Well, that bill does not force pastors to marry anybody in their pulpits. It gives churches the free rein to do whatever they want to do. You don’t have to worry, this is only a civil marriage license.’ Most of the stuff you are going to hear on the other side, saying, ‘It’s not going to do this, and it’s not going to do this, this is civil marriage, and da-da-da,’” McCoy said, “I just want you to know, it’s just not true.”

Thus, when McCoy declared, “That is true, they will not come tomorrow and handcuff Pastor Gaines,” Manna’s leader, he had already gone to such great lengths to sow doubt about the other side’s veracity that his listeners may well believe that, in fact, something like that could happen if Question 6 passes. It’s a time-tested trick—when faced with opposing facts that are unassailable, undermine them with blanket assaults on the opponent’s honesty. When it works, believers take it as a matter of faith that the other side is simply wrong on every score.

City Paper attempted to reach McCoy for comment, but did not hear back from him by press time.

The anti-Question 6 forces in Maryland face formidable, well-heeled opponents. Four pro-Question 6 groups have formed: Freedom to Marry Maryland PAC, Human Rights Campaign National Marriage Fund, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, and Human Rights Campaign Maryland Families PAC. Their efforts are supported by Maryland’s NAACP, many prominent religious leaders of a variety of faiths, unions, and a healthy cross-section of the state’s political establishment, led by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. They also, in spirit at least, have the backing of President Barack Obama, who in May cited his Christian faith in announcing his support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

Even before Obama’s announcement, national public-opinion polling had been trending in favor of same-sex marriage, with majorities first appearing in 2010. Analysis of the results indicates that older, more religious, less educated residents of the South and Midwest are more likely to be opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage, while younger, less religious, more educated residents of the Northeast and West are more likely to be supportive. Also, support is more prevalent among women than men.

Obama’s opinion on the matter had dramatic consequences among Marylanders. In January, Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies found that 49 percent of Marylanders supported legalizing same-sex marriages, while 47 percent opposed it, with a much larger margin among African-Americans, with 33 percent in favor and 60 percent opposed. In September, Gonzales found 51 percent would vote in favor of Question 6 and 43 percent would vote against, with 44 percent of African-Americans in favor and 52 percent opposed.

“Although a majority of black voters say they’ll vote against Question 6,” Gonzales’ poll summary states, “support is up from our January survey when only 33% favored same-sex marriage, suggesting public pronouncements in the interim from the President and others have had an ameliorative impact for proponents.”

In May, two weeks after Obama’s announcement, Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina firm, found even greater support. Fifty-seven percent said they would vote for Question 6, including 55 percent of African-Americans. As for intensity, 46 percent said they would vote yes on the ballot question and feel strongly about it, compared to 36 percent who said they would vote no and feel strongly about it.

“Maryland voters were already prepared to support marriage equality at the polls this fall even before President Obama’s announcement,” the firm’s summary states. “But now it appears the passage will come by a much stronger margin.”

McCoy, though, dismisses the polling. “Every poll is nothing but propaganda,” he said in May while announcing MMA’s successful petition drive. More dispassionate observers also doubt how well the results gauge how people will actually vote on Election Day. Richard Vatz, a Towson University communications professor, wrote in a letter to The Baltimore Sun in August that “five of the eight public polls conducted in the two months before California voters decided on Proposition 8” in 2008 “suggested that the measure would be defeated, perhaps by a wide margin. Instead, voters outlawed gay marriage, 53-47.” And in Maine in 2009, he continues, “most polls showed that voters favored same-sex marriage, in one case by double digits. But it was defeated, also 53-47.”

Vatz ventured to pose a reason why polling on same-sex marriage has so widely diverged from the results on Election Day: “Gay marriage is an issue in which polls don’t necessarily reflect what voters will actually do at the ballot because it is increasingly politically incorrect to oppose such nuptials.”

The national zeitgeist on same-sex marriage has indeed seemed to be shifting in its favor, which may make those who harbor doubts about opening up marriage to gays and lesbians keep their true feelings to themselves, so as not to seem politically incorrect, as Vatz suggests. Celebrity support has been growing, most recently evidenced by a New York fundraiser to help pass Maryland’s Question 6, hosted by O’Malley and attended by Hollywood stars like Susan Sarandon and John Waters, and political leaders across the partisan divide.

The cost of political incorrectness on marriage equality was made abundantly clear in the case of Emmett Burns, the Maryland state delegate who joined MMA’s lawsuit over the Question 6 ballot language. Shortly after Burns sent a letter in late August to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, writing, “I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven [sic] football player,” he quickly backed off amid overwhelming negative public reaction—and may have unwittingly helped the supporters’ cause.

The star-studded appeal of the same-sex marriage cause doesn’t stymie the zealous drive of its opponents in Maryland, though. Other than NOM, the MMA is supported by the Maryland Family Alliance, a nonprofit chaired by McCoy, and the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC), which does public-policy advocacy on behalf of the Catholic Church. MCC spokeswoman Kathy Dempsey told The Sun recently that “our campaign is not about raising millions and millions from Hollywood and Madison Avenue,” an apparent dig at the fundraising strategy of Question 6 supporters.

While the opponents may not get fat checks from national celebrities, they do have prodigious resources. NOM’s involvement brings not only money but strategy—including, as revealed earlier this year, attempts to divide the African-American and gay-and-lesbian communities. The idea, according to a NOM memo that turned up as part of one of its federal lawsuits to evade campaign-finance disclosures, is to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize, and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

NOM’s strategy has been put in play in Maryland. McCoy has been “equipped” by NOM with direct employment as executive director of MMA—a salary he apparently needs, given the $32,586 federal tax lien filed against him by the IRS in 2011 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Jackson, too, has financial reasons to be “energized” about NOM’s agenda. NOM gave $20,000 to Jackson’s High Impact Leadership Coalition, which, along with NOM, bankrolled Jackson’s Stand4MarriageDC, which unsuccessfully sought to put Washington, D.C.’s law legalizing same-sex marriage up for referendum. (Stand4Marriage’s other donor, with a token amount, was Chuck Donovan of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed an anti-gay hate group.)

Evidence abounds of a media campaign objecting to the idea of same-sex marriage as a civil right, the second part of NOM’s three-part wedge strategy, as McCoy, Jackson, Burns, and many other African-American pastors have regularly turned to this theme in their public speaking.

As for the third element of NOM’s strategy, McCoy claimed at his speech at Manna Bible Baptist Church that “I’ve been told that I’m a racist, a bigot, a hater—and I said, ‘Wow, I never knew in my life that I’d be called those things.’” He did not, however, say who the name-callers were or where and when they made such statements.

Whether Jump the Broom for Marriages is also part of NOM’s Maryland operations remains to be seen: October’s campaign-finance reports should clarify whether NOM’s supporting the effort. JBM’s approach, though, will likely reflect the hardball political tactics of longtime Maryland political operative Julius Henson, who—after his May election-law conviction over the 2010 robo-calls scandal involving former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign—told the Maryland Gazette he’d be helping JBM. The group’s signs bear the telltale purple-and-yellow color scheme of many of Henson’s campaigns in the past, and its leadership includes many former Henson clients, including Lisa Joi Stancil, a former Baltimore City State’s Attorney candidate, and Deborah Claridy, who ran for Baltimore City sheriff in 2010.

Despite the positive polling, political clout, and celebrity backing Question 6 supporters are getting, NOM and MMA will continue to mount a memorable, combative campaign. Their motivation, after all, comes from above—as McCoy pointed out at his Manna speech.

“When we are in the Kingdom,” McCoy said, whipping himself and his audience into a fury, “we are supposed to be the third team on the field. We have a different rule book. This rule book is the Word of God,” so “our obligation is to be . . . the team that says no, we play by a different set of rules.” Just like “the prophets [who] spoke to the kings” in the Bible “about what God said, and what was good and what was bad, and what was right and what was wrong,” McCoy exhorted Manna’s congregation to “believe we have a voice of authority, and we can declare and decree.” Referring obliquely to Question 6 supporters, he said, “I get what they’re saying over here, but God says it differently,” adding, “we cannot let this go down on our watch.”

If Question 6 fails, McCoy will have reason to believe his words were prophetic.

Mainstream Extremism

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, July 30, 2014


Anne Arundel County’s Fifth Councilmanic District is the whitest, most educated, and richest of the county’s seven districts, and its voters lean heavily in favor of Republicans. If that pattern holds true in November’s general election for the council seat, the district’s 75,000 residents — 87 percent white, 97 percent with a high-school diploma, and about half with a college degree or higher, and with a median household income of $111,000, higher than any Maryland county — will be turning for constituent services and leadership on local issues to the GOP candidate, Michael Peroutka.

Peroutka, a highly successful debt-collection attorney whose brother and law partner Stephen Peroutka is a board member of the Babe Ruth Museum, also is white, smart, and rich, but it’s doubtful that many of his potential constituents have used their advantages in the way he long has: to advance a militant theocratic agenda.

A decade ago, Peroutka already had a record of supporting the formation of local militias when he ran for U.S. president under the Constitution Party banner, with a campaign slogan — “God-Family-Republic” — that dressed up his extremism with rhetoric that run-of-the-mill patriotic Christians might find innocuously attractive. Similarly, the name of Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution (IOTC) fails to communicate its actual mission: creating theocratic governance based on both testaments of the Bible, similar to how extremist Muslims would like to establish states based on sharia law derived from the Quran.

Peroutka has now hit on a more pragmatic approach: run for something winnable, like a local race where the outcome is relatively malleable for someone like Peroutka, whose fundraising capabilities are virtually limitless within the usual legal constraints. He has more than a quarter-million dollars in his campaign chest as of late June, and surely much more has come in since. Top supporters include Roy Moore, the Bible-thumping chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court who believes the separation of church and state is an attack on Christianity and to whom Peroutka has dedicated a field and monument at his 40-acre Prince George’s County property called Gladway Farm; prominent Christian evangelical lawyers William Olson and Herbert Titus, a former Constitution Party vice-presidential candidate; and ex-con Franklin Sanders, a Tennessee metals-trader with secessionist sympathies.

Peroutka’s campaign treasurer is Tom Pavlinic, a sex-crimes defense attorney who specializes in defending clients accused by very young victims. Pavlinic was Peroutka’s attorney when he unsuccessfully sued a social worker who had helped Peroutka’s step-daughters when Peroutka and his then-wife, Diane Peroutka, despite his strongly voiced belief that the state should not be in the parenting business, had placed them in the care of the government’s foster-care system after one of them had accused Peroutka of sexual abuse and then recanted.

Though the Fifth District is a pretty solid GOP stronghold, most of its voters recently came out in support of something that Peroutka is stridently against: same-sex marriage. When the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 passed the law extending the right to marry to same-sex couples, Peroutka reacted by stating that “no earthly government body can redefine marriage any more than it can redefine the law of gravity” and that therefore “there is no reason to consider this a valid legislature or this a legitimate governor. Other than fear, I can think of no reason to further obey their dictates.” Yet when the law went up for referendum that fall, nearly 55 percent of the Fifth District’s voters supported it. Only in four of the district’s 34 precincts, clustered in its far northern reaches near where Peroutka lives in Millersville, did majorities oppose same-sex marriage.

Even if he loses the council race to Democratic contender Patrick Armstrong, Peroutka still won an elected position in the June 24 primary election: he’s now a member of the Republican State Central Committee in his district, making him a leader of the local GOP faithful — whether they like it or not.

And clearly, some of the drivers of mainstream GOP thinking find Peroutka to be a philosophical pariah. In February, when Peroutka’s name was being bandied about as a possible GOP candidate for Maryland attorney general, Mark Newgent penned a blog at Red Maryland pointing out that Peroutka is an avowed Christian Reconstructionist. This God’s-law-reigns-supreme approach was birthed by Rousas Rushdoony, and Newgent summed up its goal: “a civil government whose first duty is to carry out a religious mandate to do what God requires as written in the Old Testament, including executions for adulterers and homosexuals.”

Cato Institute senior fellow Walter Olson has called Peroutka a “wackypants anti-gay crusader,” and on his Free State Notes blog in June he wrote that Peroutka’s IOTC “promotes a deeply erroneous view of the U.S. Constitution as an essentially religious document.” And in pointing out that the man is stridently anti-Republican, Olson quoted a Peroutka screed from last fall imploring “anyone, including those who identify with the ‘Tea Party,’ who loves America and desires real reform” to “disengage themselves from the Republican Party and their brand of worthless, Godless, unprincipled conservatism.”

In 2012, Peroutka, a prodigious donor to deeply conservative causes, gave $10,000 to the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which was working to defeat marriage-equality referendum question that ultimately passed muster with the voters. The donation drew the attention of the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-marriage-equality group, which promptly broadcast Peroutka’s strong ties to the League of the South, a Southern secessionist outfit that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a racist hate group. Today, Peroutka’s ties to the League have become a serious concern for Maryland GOP leaders, including gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, who disavowed Peroutka after the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, played up Peroutka’s extremism.

On July 30, Peroutka held a press conference at a Glen Burnie hotel to try to manage the fallout. He was flanked by two African-American men who support him and his candidacy: Republican state-senate candidate Eric Knowles (who lost in the primary, and has previously run as the Constitution Party’s candidate for governor) and Robert Broadus, who ran as a Republican for U.S. Senate in 2012. Peroutka refused to back down from his support for the League, which he called a “Christian, free-market group,” and, in response to a question, said he’d made no mistake when he sang “I Wish I Was In Dixie” and called it “the national anthem” at a League event in 2012, a YouTube video of which has drawn attention since his primary win. Peroutka sought to cast doubt on the SPLC, referring to “the dangers” of its endeavors, in which he said it engages in “smearing together obvious hatred, such as Neo Nazis or the Klan, with groups,” like the League, “where the SPLC simply doesn’t like their politics.”

Peroutka’s effort to separate the League from neo-Nazis is a blurry endeavor itself, though. As the Huffington Post’s coverage of Peroutka’s press conference pointed out, the YouTube video of Peroutka singing “Dixie” in 2012 “was shot by Michael Cushman, a former member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, who now leads the League’s South Carolina chapter.”

Newgent, meanwhile, saw all this coming when Peroutka was being discussed as a candidate for attorney general. “Imagine the field day the media, not to mention Democrats, would have” with a Peroutka GOP candidacy, he wrote, adding that it would be an “embarrassment and drag on other candidates.”

Some of the most intelligent analysis of Peroutka, though, is coming from the left.

On Huffington Post, Jonathan Hutson has chronicled Peroutka’s ongoing alliance with the League of the South, and quotes its president, Michael Hill, promoting guerrilla warfare and the deployment of “death squads” to obtain the League’s goals. “The primary targets will not be enemy soldiers,” Hill wrote on July 15. “Instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run.”

Political Research Associates‘ Frederick Clarkson, meanwhile, writes that Peroutka’s run, as well as that of the GOP candidate for Anne Arundel County Sheriff, Peroutka and League of the South ally Joseph “Joe” Delimater III, “may signal a small, but significant, national trend in applied theocratic theory.”

Peroutka and his followers and allies “believe that holding local office empowers them to defy state and federal law under the rubric of an ancient concept called The Doctrine of the Lower Civil Magistrate,” Clarkson continues. He explains that this doctrine “has been adopted by conservative Christian leaders who are opposed to religious pluralism and separation of church and state, as well as such matters as abortion, LGBTQ rights, taxes, public education and gun control laws,” saying it empowers them “to overthrow ‘tyrannical government.'”

In an earlier post in June, Clarkson recalls an interview he had with Peroutka donor Titus in 1996, when Titus was running for vice president. Titus “told me at a press conference that lower-level government officials (called ‘lesser magistrates’ in the archaic language of the ideas on which his views are based), may refuse to enforce ungodly laws and policies of the government, and rise up against a government that has become corrupt or tyrannical.”

Given Peroutka’s attraction to militias and overthrowing the government, the highly educated voters of Anne Arundel County’s Fifth District could be forgiven if they worry that his candidacy presents a potential threat to civil society. If they happen to fall into debt that Peroutka’s firm tries to collect, though, they might also worry about his tactics.

Consider the case of Antonietta Serruto, who, after gaining bankruptcy protection in 2012, was still illegally targeted for collection by Peroutka’s firm, which took court action against her in 2013, despite her alerting the firm that the debt they sought to collect had been discharged. She ended up suing the firm (and quickly winning a $20,000 settlement, plus costs, expenses, and attorneys fees), after a processor server showed up at her home, where she lives alone, on Thanksgiving night last fall to pound on her door and demand she “open up,” according to her lawsuit. Serruto “was terrified by the pounding and the demands of the unknown male at her door,” the lawsuit states.

As Peroutka’s county-council campaign continues, gaining the attention it deserves, at least the district’s voters won’t be casting votes for or against an unknown male anymore. He is what he is: an extremist dressed up for mainstream appeal.

God • Family • Republic: Pasadena Attorney Michael Peroutka is the Constitution Party’s Favored Candidate for President of the United States. Is it a Match Made in Heaven?

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 17, 2004


Michael’s Eighth Avenue, the Glen Burnie catering hall, is famous for drawing thirsty crowds to such earthy attractions as its regular “Ballroom Boxing” night, a sweaty mix of bouts, babes, and beer. On the afternoon Saturday, Feb. 21, though, it hosted a decidedly more devout affair: the announcement that Michael Anthony Peroutka, a Pasadena attorney, is seeking the 2004 presidential nomination of the 12-year-old arch-conservative Constitution Party. The party has secured a spot on November’s ballot in a dozen states so far, though not in Maryland, and Peroutka won nearly 25,000 votes in California’s March 2 primary.

Peroutka, with his brother Stephen G. Peroutka, runs the debt-collections law firm Peroutka and Peroutka, as well as the firm’s educational-outreach arm, the Institute on the Constitution, which sells 12-week seminar kits about the biblical perspective on the U.S. Constitution for $145. If he is voted the party’s nominee at its late-June convention in Valley Forge, Pa., the history books say he’ll be the first third-party presidential candidate from Maryland on general election ballots since Joshua Levering of the Prohibition Party in 1896.

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Peroutka rhetorically asked the Michael’s Eighth Avenue gathering of about 300 faithful, his dark suit and well-groomed sandy-gray hair lending a sensible air to his fundamentalist zeal. “We must not flee to the mountains,” he answered, citing a verse from Psalms, but instead “stand and fight” and “rebuild the foundations,” as did King David in the Old Testament.

“This is not a time for despair and discouragement,” he railed. “This is a time for discernment and decisive action! . . . This is why I am seeking the presidential nomination of the Constitution Party. I want, with your help, to call this country back to its original, godly constitutional greatness!”

Peroutka, like the Constitution Party itself, toes a well-defined line when it comes to matters of dogma. As his 20-minute speech made clear, he believes that the federal government routinely ignores the dictates of the U.S. Constitution, which he contends is a biblically grounded document written by divinely inspired Founding Fathers. Chronic, long-term erosion of these godly constitutional foundations, he believes, is advancing society’s moral decay, a trend made especially evident in what he calls “attacks” on the family, such as abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage. The task for Peroutka and the Constitution Party, he says, is to fight the forces of decay and to present a loud, growing, and unwavering political voice to challenge the major parties. Taking jabs at President George W. Bush for his “failure to lead” on abortion, his “reckless” government spending, and his “unconstitutional” war on Iraq is a current staple of Constitution Party oratory.

“People may say, ‘Don’t you know you can’t win, don’t have a chance?'” Peroutka declared earnestly from Michael’s balloon-adorned stage. “But I just don’t believe in chance. I believe in divine providence. . . . With God, all things are possible.”

“The themes of our campaign are God, family, republic,” he continued. “In short, we are called to honor the sovereignty of God, defend the American family, and restore the American republic. The God of the Bible must be first because–well, because He says so.”

After God, Peroutka continued, comes family–an issue of central importance to the Peroutka campaign and the Constitution Party as a whole. Before Peroutka’s speech, party luminary William Shearer, a lapsed Republican who founded late presidential candidate and Alabama governor George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968, had praised the Peroutkas for having “created that thing which we stand for as a party–the family.” Shearer admired the couple’s “three lovely children”–Beth, Patrick, and Timothy, all teenagers, who took the stage with their father and mother. Spear Lancaster, the 2002 Libertarian Party candidate for Maryland’s governorship, was there and commented afterward that the Peroutkas “seem like the archetypal Christian-type family”–an image that is reinforced by a family portrait on the Peroutka’s campaign Web site.

So, up on the stage, Peroutka put particular emphasis on family issues. Whereas government exists simply and exclusively to “secure and protect God-given rights” of citizens, he said, most politicians fail to comprehend this, suggesting instead that government exists for a myriad of other, extraneous reasons: “to create a level playing field” in society, or “to maintain the infrastructure,” or “to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.”

Or to “take care of the children of the state,” Peroutka added. He then paused as Albion Knight, a retired U.S. Army general and conservative radio commentator from Gaithersburg who was sitting in the audience after having made an earlier speech, suddenly shouted, “Not mine!” Approving chuckles rippled across the room.

“We love that one, don’t we?” Peroutka continued, remarking sarcastically that “I didn’t know the state had any children.”

The crowd was audibly amused. The reaction, though, may have been different had it been known that in the early 1990s Peroutka and his wife, Diane, forced her two teenaged daughters from an earlier marriage–Dawn and Holly Hubbard–to become wards of the state foster-care system until the age of 18. (Diane Peroutka’s previous husband died of cancer in 1978.) This happened after Dawn told members of her Catholic youth group and her basketball coach at McDonogh School that she recalled sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Peroutka from when she was 9–memories that were not substantiated in an ensuing state investigation, and which she later recanted. And it happened after Holly, who suffered from learning disabilities and a troubled relationship with her stepfather, displayed behavioral problems.

The Peroutkas transferred parental responsibilities for Dawn Hubbard to the State of Maryland on her 17th birthday, May 1, 1992, and Holly met the same fate on the day after Thanksgiving 1992, when she was 15. The sisters, now in their late 20s and living outside of Maryland, say they never wanted to be estranged from their mother and have tried without success to reconcile with her several times since being removed from the Peroutka household more than a decade ago.


Many of these facts were uncovered when a cursory Google search led to a 1997 Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion that rejected Michael and Diane Peroutka’s libel claims against Dawn and Holly Hubbard’s state social worker, Marsha Streng. The alleged defamatory statement was made by Streng in her Towson office on Jan. 12, 1995, when Diane Peroutka showed up, Dawn Hubbard in tow, and angrily and repeatedly demanded to know whether Streng thought she was an emotionally abused spouse. Diane Peroutka had been moved to confront Streng when, during a conciliatory lunch with Dawn Hubbard earlier that day in Towson, she saw that her daughter had an informational packet about emotional abuse that Streng had mailed her daughter, then in college and majoring in psychology. Confronted by Diane Peroutka, Streng at first repeatedly refused to answer the question, but ultimately said yes. Diane Peroutka told her husband what Streng had said, and Dawn Hubbard told Holly about it as well. Nine months later, in October 1995, the couple sued Streng for libel.

The libel case was rejected at the first opportunity by the Baltimore County Circuit Court a year later, when the judge held that Streng’s statement was “an opinion . . . given at specific request to give an opinion. That cannot constitute defamation.” The Peroutkas appealed, and lost again. The appellate court opinion, filed in June 1997, said that “because all the persons who received the alleged defamatory statement knew the underlying facts of the conflicts within this family . . . Streng is not subject to liability, although, as with any opinion, [the Peroutkas are] free to disagree. We hold that the statement . . . was not defamatory.” The court also ordered the Peroutkas to pay the state’s costs for the year and a half it spent defending Streng from the claims.

Since Streng’s statement was about the Peroutkas’ family life, by suing her they opened up their family history to public examination via documents, affidavits, and depositions gathered for Peroutka v. Streng. According to those case records, on May 13, 1992, two weeks after the Peroutkas placed Dawn Hubbard in state custody, Michael Peroutka petitioned for a court order barring Dawn from having any further contact with the Peroutka family or from approaching their Baltimore County townhouse. When Dawn’s state-appointed lawyer, Anna Davis, successfully warded off the attempted restraining order by arguing that Michael Peroutka had no standing to petition the court because he had never adopted Dawn and was not her natural father, he filed an amended petition, this time with his wife, and won.

Dawn Hubbard, once in the hands of the state, had to rely on Social Security for financial support. At first, her checks were sent to the Peroutkas’ home, and Streng, in late June 1992, sent Diane Peroutka a letter asking for them. Diane Peroutka responded in writing that the money was used to pay bills, especially attorneys fees, “which have escalated far beyond the income I received for Dawn. . . . This expense was accrued because of the lies and problems caused by Dawn, and her Social Security check must pay for this.”

In the summer of that year, the case record reflects that Diane Peroutka, with her husband’s help and guidance, launched a letter-writing campaign. She sent approximately 1,000 letters to anyone who may have heard about Dawn Hubbard’s sexual abuse allegations–the Peroutkas’ friends and neighbors, for instance, as well as parents and neighbors of Dawn’s schoolmates–alerting them to her daughter’s mental and emotional condition and implying that her daughter might pose a threat to the community. That fall, when Dawn was hospitalized for a severe eating disorder, neither of her parents visited her.

The following spring, as she was being treated by Johns Hopkins Medical psychiatrist Dr. Paul McHugh, Dawn Hubbard began to doubt the veracity of her memories of sexual abuse. By the fall of 1993, she was convinced they weren’t real, but the result of a phenomenon known as false-memory syndrome. When Dawn attempted to deliver a letter to that effect to her parents, Diane Peroutka had her arrested for trespassing; Diane Peroutka had tried to do the same to to a visiting Holly Hubbard in June 1993, but the police wouldn’t charge Holly. Shortly thereafter, Dawn appeared on the Phil Donohue Show with representatives from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and recanted her sexual abuse allegations to a national television audience. Still, the Peroutkas have rebuffed Dawn and Holly Hubbard’s subsequent attempts at reconciliation.

The family crisis, while quieted since the libel suit ended in 1997, is still unresolved. Dawn Hubbard, now 28 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bucknell University, works as a guidance counselor for female minors in the Pennsylvania correctional system. She explained when contacted recently that she and her sister, now a waitress living in Connecticut who is preparing for her August wedding, remain estranged from the Peroutkas.

Holly Hubbard submitted affidavits in Peroutka v. Streng that reflect the emotional toll exacted by her experiences with Michael Peroutka, who she believed controlled Diane Peroutka’s actions toward her daughters and forced his wife to end relationships with her family and friends from before their marriage. In the sworn statements, Holly recalled “several occasions when my stepfather would mash my face into the floor, sit on me to restrain me, push me against a wall, and pull my hair while demanding that I call myself a ‘slut.'” “I believe,” Holly continued, “that when my mother put me in foster care and refused to visit me or talk to me, it was because of pressure from my stepfather.”

In the past, Michael Peroutka has sidestepped any personal responsibility for the couple’s handling of Diane’s stepdaughters, whom he never legally adopted. “Certainly I discussed it with my wife, but it wasn’t my decision to make,” he explained in a 1996 deposition. “They were her daughters.”

A decidedly different take on Michael Peroutka’s role in his stepdaughters’ treatment was expressed by McHugh, the psychiatrist who helped Dawn Hubbard determine that her memories were false and the only doctor with whom the Peroutkas agreed to consult with during Dawn’s care at Hopkins. In a 1996 affidavit, McHugh stated that in his opinion Diane Peroutka “has been subjected to excessive emotional pressure by her husband to act in ways she otherwise would not act . . . contrary to her own best interests and those of her daughters.”

In a 1993 telephone conversation with the Hubbard sisters’ attorney, Anna Davis, case records show, McHugh was even more condemning, saying he was “disgusted by the Peroutkas’ behavior,” particularly that of Michael Peroutka, whom he described as “brutish.” “The truth will come out,” McHugh is recorded as saying. “It always does.”

In an e-mail response to written questions provided by City Paper, Peroutka maintains that the family turmoil as Dawn and Holly Hubbard were forced out of the house “was exasperated by the prejudicial attitude and professional incompetence of certain employees of our local social services department. I joined my wife in filing a lawsuit for defamation against one of the social workers that we believed acted with intent to harm our reputations and our family relationships. All of this was long ago.

“I fully support and appreciate my wife’s decisions and actions during that most difficult time, and ever since. Her desire to protect and defend our family, and to restore her troubled children, is fully shared by me. We have both, long ago, forgiven her daughters and others who, we believed, sought to harm them and us, and we pray and hope for their restoration.”


The traditional family values, limited-government platform of Michael Peroutka and the Constitution Party appears to clash headlong with the reality that he stood by, and possibly encouraged, his wife as she forced her daughters out of their home and transferred parental responsibilities for them to Maryland’s social services bureaucracy–an entity whose very existence is questionable under Constitution Party doctrine about the role of government. “Parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to nurture, educate, and discipline their children,” the party’s platform states. “Assumption of any of these responsibilities by any governmental agency usurps the role of the parents.”

Meanwhile, the libel case record of Peroutka’s alleged abusive behavior toward his wife and stepdaughters seems to flout the Constitution Party’s platform on “Character and Moral Conduct,” which states that “our party leaders and public officials must display exemplary qualities of . . . moral uprightness . . . self-restraint . . . kindness, and compassion. If they cannot be trusted in private life, neither can they be trusted in public life.”

“I don’t believe that my personal views diverge from the Constitution Party’s platform or mission,” reads Peroutka’s e-mailed response to a question about these apparent inconsistencies. “As a believer in the Lordship of Christ I know that there is a fixed and eternal standard of right and wrong and that I am a fallible, fallen creature who falls short every day. Alone, I am not capable of ‘reconciling’ any chapter, or moment of my life. I believe that it is through the saving work of Christ that we are reconciled to Him and each other.”

Peroutka’s potential image problems as a candidate for the nation’s top elected office don’t end with his home life, though. There’s also the matter of his legally questionable political donations over the past few years.

The issue first surfaced on Oct. 6, 2003, when the public interest group Common Cause Maryland issued a report on political donors from Anne Arundel County who illegally exceeded the state limits on political contributions: no more than $4,000 to any one campaign committee and no more than $10,000 overall from any given contributor during a four-year reporting cycle. Peroutka was one of four individuals, and his firm one of 10 businesses, that had given more than the limits, Common Cause reported.

Shortly after Common Cause released its report, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli’s office opened a criminal investigation. The prosecutor opted not to bring charges against Michael Peroutka or its firm. “They brought themselves into compliance,” senior assistant state prosecutor Steven Trostle explained to City Paper, adding that on Dec. 8 he sent them letters closing the case and “warning them” that more violations would be treated more seriously.

In order to come into compliance, Peroutka and his firm relied on the good graces of the Maryland Constitution Party, which on Nov. 17, according to state campaign finance records, returned $3,230 of the $3,500 Michael Peroutka had given the party, and $2,200 of the $2,500 Peroutka and Peroutka had contributed. These transactions brought the total amount Peroutka and his firm had contributed to all state campaign committees to below the $10,000 limit. Though several other campaign committees–those of state senators Alex Mooney (R-3rd District) and Andrew Harris (R-7) and state delegates Emmett Burns (D-10) and Carmen Armedori (R-5A)–had also received substantial financial support from Peroutka and his law firm, only the Maryland Constitution Party returned contributions to make things right again under the law for them.

Montanarelli may have more in store for Michael Peroutka on the campaign finance front. On Aug. 22, 2002, Michael and Diane Peroutka’s three children, then between the ages of 11 and 15, donated $4,000 each to the campaign of state Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-34), one of the state GOP’s staunchest conservatives, who at the time was facing a tough race in her Harford County district. “It’s never come up before,” Montanarelli said recently of the scenario. “But I have a problem with that one. You can’t evade the donation limits by having children making donations. It would probably be a violation, and we could probably prove that it came from their parent or parents.”

Asked by e-mail whether the money his children donated was theirs, whether or not he gave the money to them, and whether or not he prompted them to make the donations, Michael Peroutka responded, “I am confident that my children followed the law.”

Public records reveal another foible of a sort that has proved thorny for politicians in the past. In December 1991, Michael Peroutka was caught driving with an illegally high concentration of alcohol in his system. The result: probation before judgment and a month of restricted driving privileges. When asked if the episode was in any way inconsistent with the Constitution Party’s platform, which calls for its leaders to practice “temperance,” Peroutka gave the same answer as that regarding his relationship with his stepdaughters–that he is “fallible,” and that reconciliation of his personal behavior with party doctrine can only be accomplished “through the saving work of Christ.”


The evolution of Michael Peroutka from a dozen years ago, when he was struggling with his stepdaughters and living in a townhouse, into a prominent arch-conservative politician with a house on a half-acre in Millersville’s Brittingham development, a property assessed at $580,000, is a hard subject to nail down. But the changes have been marked.

Perhaps the most fundamental change in Peroutka is the fact that he is no longer with the Roman Catholic Church. The Peroutka v. Streng libel case records indicate that Catholicism was once a central part of his life. Many of Dawn Hubbard’s conflicts with her stepfather had been over religion, her 1996 deposition revealed, including a “confrontational problem” over her resistance to becoming a confirmed Catholic, a church ceremony to which she ultimately submitted after Peroutka “chastised” her. Since then, though, he joined the Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, which worships at a Seventh-day Adventist facility in Pasadena.

Like many fundamentalist churches, the Free Evangelical Church of America, of which Cornerstone is a part, is known for its strict prohibitive stances on abortion and homosexuality and for its very literal reading of the Bible. And Cornerstone’s ties to politics are strong. The state Constitution Party’s Web site promotes Cornerstone as a “Constitutionally aware church” and provides a link to the church’s Web site. Cornerstone’s pastor, David Whitney, ran unsuccessfully in 2002 for Republican State Central Committee in Maryland’s 30th District and is also a donor to the state Constitution Party. Prior to running for public office, he had become locally renowned for helping to organize anti-abortion protests, replete with a woman in a Grim Reaper costume and poster-sized pictures of aborted fetuses, in front of a clinic on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park that provides abortion services.

Whitney also edits and writes for the monthly newsletter of the Peroutkas’ Institute on the Constitution, for which he penned a lengthy treatise titled “The Most Misused and Abused Amendment of the Constitution,” denouncing the U.S. government’s application of the 14th Amendment, which ended slavery and codified the principles of due process and equal protection under the law.

Alongside Peroutka’s evolving beliefs has come greater wealth. Peroutka and Peroutka’s Anne Arundel County personal property tax payments, records of which are available on the state’s online database, indicates that the law firm has been growing fast. In 1995, Peroutka and Peroutka owed $6,300 in such taxes, which are levied on a business’ furniture, equipment, inventory, and the like. By 2003, the amount had increased to $180,000.

Another indication of Peroutka’s improved cash flow is the amount he has invested in politics. Since 1999, Peroutka has given nearly $80,000 to Maryland and federal campaign committees. Much of it–nearly $55,000–went to federal Constitution Party accounts, with the rest allotted to various local and national politicians from both the Republican and Constitution parties. In addition, during the same time frame Peroutka and Peroutka gave $15,000, and Stephen Peroutka gave $50,000, to Maryland and federal campaign committees, $36,000 of it to the Constitution Party National Committee. Diane Peroutka, too, chipped in just over $5,000, $2,500 of it to the anti-gay-rights activist group Take Back Maryland. In all, the three Peroutkas and the firm have given about $150,000 to political campaigns since 1999. And that amount doesn’t include the $12,000 the three Peroutka children gave to Nancy Jacobs’ re-election effort in 2002. Nor does it take into account the $87,000 the Peroutka brothers and their firm spent underwriting a 2002 television and print advertising campaign urging Maryland voters to “vote pro-life.”

To put these sums in perspective, the Peroutkas are nowhere near Peter Angelos’ league–the Orioles owner and super-lawyer has made just over $3 million in federal-level donations since 1997–but surpass Baltimore bakery magnate and real-estate developer John Paterakis, who has given just shy of $35,000 to federal campaign accounts since 1997.

Asked about the origins of his wealth and consequent ability to make large political donations, Peroutka writes, “I am thankful to God from whom all blessings flow.”


Peroutka’s earliest political investment speaks volumes of where he was heading: into a tightly knit world of right-wing political activity on the outer edge of the Republican Party and, ultimately, a very small circle of rainmaking Constitution Party backers.

On the federal level, Peroutka’s first recorded donation was on Oct. 15, 1999, when $250 sent from his Ritchie Highway office–it was entered in the ledger-books as having come from “Peroutka P.A.”–arrived in Katy, Texas, where it landed in the short-lived and little-used bank account of the Draft Steve Stockman for Congress Committee. “I vaguely remember this donation,” Peroutka explains in his e-mail, “but do not remember what prompted it.”

Stockman, an accountant and former one-term Republican congressman who lost a bid for re-election in 1996, was known for his defense of the militia movement and his adamant pro-gun stance. In the fall of 1999, after having lost a bid for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission a year earlier, Stockman was working as a highly paid consultant, earning $250,000 in fees advising the congressional campaign of Texas Republican Mark Brewer, who lost the following spring’s primary. But Peroutka and a small group of like-minded Stockman supporters were hoping to draw Stockman back into running for federal office again.

Other than Peroutka, 15 individuals from around the country donated $7,000 in itemized contributions (an equal amount was collected in small, unitemized amounts) to the draft-Stockman campaign based in Katy, which raised funds only for a single month in the fall of 1999. (A defining moment for Katy, population 10,000, came the following summer, when seven local men held a cross-burning on the property of one of the town’s few black families, and were subsequently convicted of federal hate crimes.) Among Peroutka’s co-donors to the low-profile campaign were three individuals whose backgrounds place them on the extreme edge of conservative politics–a place where Peroutka, nearly five years later, is now established as a leader and benefactor.

Joining Peroutka in the draft-Stockman campaign was James R. Lightner, a wealthy Dallas businessman who in the spring of 2000 joined an elite club of about 100 people who contributed to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s flash-in-the-pan stab at an open congressional seat in Louisiana. Another name on the list of contributors was Chris Cupit, a right-wing political functionary from Louisiana who gained notoriety as a partner in GOP Marketplace, a Virginia-based consulting firm that was caught undermining Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002 by subcontracting with an Idaho phone-calling firm to jam the Democrats’ phone-bank lines with continuous hang-ups. Also on the list was Robert G. Wheaton of San Antonio, who in 1995 was elected to the seven-member Committee of Safety of the Southern Region of the Texas Constitutional Militia, one of Texas’ two main militia organizations. (According to the Austin-based pro-militia Constitution Society, the Texas Constitutional Militia ‘s Committee of Safety is “no longer operative.”)

Lightner and Cupit are both active in GOP causes, and Wheaton is a regular contributor to the Libertarian Party. But all three, by virtue of their political activities, are iconoclasts outside the political mainstream, a fact that seems to drive their zeal–and open their wallets–for fundamental cultural change. The Constitution Party has been calling for such change since its founding in 1992, when it picked up what was left of the George Wallace movement–the American Independent Party and its various offshoots–to form what was originally known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party. And Peroutka, with his deep pockets and apparently growing doctrinal zeal, fits in quite well.

Now that he’s the party’s presumed presidential hope, Peroutka has started to answer candidate questionnaires, such as the one at vote-smart.org, that give an idea of his stands on the issues, such as:

· Eliminate all taxes except tariffs on imports, which should be slightly increased.

· Eliminate all federal government funding for everything except defense, whose budget should be maintained at current levels–except for one item, a national missile defense, whose funding should be greatly increased.

· Except under special circumstances, expel all illegal aliens and place a moratorium on immigration.

· End all government aid to foreign interests, be it other countries or international organizations.

Getting in a position to make such fundamental changes to the federal government requires money. The Constitution Party National Committee’s cash on hand, as most recently reported on Jan. 31, is a little more than $8,200–barely enough to throw a decent bull roast–while Peroutka 2004, the presidential campaign committee, has nearly $22,000 on hand. The fact that either outfit has any cash at all, though, is thanks mostly to a small group of big donors, including Peroutka himself, who has chipped in nearly $57,000 to the national committee since 2000, and has lent $40,000 to his own presidential campaign committee. Only two other individuals have given more than $50,000 to the party’s federal accounts: the chairman of the Constitution Party National Committee, Jim Clymer, and a retiree from Dallas, Julie Lauer-Leonardi, who’s the party’s most prodigious benefactor, having given more than $80,000.

Lauer-Leonardi and Lightner are among dozens of conservative activists who sit on the leadership council of the Conservative Caucus, a 30-year-old Vienna, Va.-based political organization whose founder and chairman is Howard Phillips, a former Nixon administration official who has been the Constitution Party’s presidential candidate in the last three elections, and who helped found it in 1992 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party. (The party changed to its current name when it was trying in 1999 to woo Patrick Buchanan to be its presidential candidate.) Phillips is backing Peroutka and gave a rousing pro-Peroutka speech at the candidate’s announcement ceremony at Michael’s Eighth Avenue.

Lauer-Leonardi may be the biggest individual donor to the Constitution Party, but Peroutka, if you add to his contributions those made by his brother and wife, comes out on top: All together, they’ve given more than $95,000 to the party. As Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News and a close observer of U.S. third-party politics, says, “Peroutka really wants to be the party’s candidate for president.”


Only 307 Marylanders were registered as Constitution Party voters in March 2003, the last time the state board of elections did a head count before the party lost its status as a recognized party here because it didn’t garner enough votes in the 2002 state elections. Howard Phillips garnered sparse support from Maryland voters in his three presidential bids: 919 in 2000, 3,402 in 1996, and 22 in 1992. Nonetheless, Maryland has a special place in the Constitution Party’s heart. After all, the Free State backed the Constitution Party’s ancestor, George Wallace, in the 1964 presidential primary, and handed him nearly 180,000 votes in the 1968 general election.

A number of key Constitution Party players are based in or around Maryland. Clymer, the party’s chairman, is a lawyer in nearby Lancaster County, Pa. Phillips’ Conservative Caucus is based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. Radio commentator and Constitution Party donor Albion Knight only had a short commute from his Gaithersburg home to give his homily at the Peroutka announcement. And Peroutka 2004’s $800-a-week communications director, John Lofton, a fixture of hard-right journalism since the rise of Ronald Reagan, lives in Laurel. The Save-a-Patriot Foundation, an anti-government, anti-tax organization based in Hagerstown, is scheduled to have Peroutka address one of its weekly Saturday-night gatherings in April. Two Maryland pastors–Cornerstone’s David Whitney and Michael Chastain of Christ Presbyterian Church in Elkton, who gave the prayer at Peroutka’s announcement–have emerged as important religious voices for the Constitution Party’s doctrines.

And, of course, Peroutka is a native Marylander, born in Baltimore in 1953. He and his brother Stephen Peroutka gave their first big donations to the Constitution Party National Committee–a combined sum of $30,000–between June and August of 2000. The Peroutka brothers’ Institute on the Constitution has caught on, and its Web site is a commonly encountered link on far-right political and religious Web sites. Michael and Stephen Peroutka both take their messages to the airwaves on local Christian radio stations.

More than 300 people came to Peroutka’s Feb. 21 event in Glen Burnie–a much better turnout than the 50 or so people who attended Ralph Nader’s August 2000 announcement in Annapolis that he would be the Green Party’s presidential candidate that year. Onstage at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, Michael Peroutka mentioned another manifestation of the party’s local influence when he thanked “members of the General Assembly here present” for coming to the event. Freshman state Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-31) was there, but City Paper was unable to spot any other elected officials celebrating Peroutka’s announcement. Spear Lancaster said later that state Republicans whose campaigns Peroutka has supported financially “don’t want to be seen at another party’s event.” In his e-mail, Peroutka said that he had “sent notes to a few of my friends in the General Assembly and wanted to make sure I welcomed any who might have come. So I used the plural. I cannot remember seeing other Delegates except for my good friend Don Dwyer.”

Dwyer has teamed up with Peroutka, who put $4,000 in the delegate’s campaign kitty last May, in other ways recently. As reported by Dwyer in a Feb. 16 letter posted on the Institute on the Constitution’s Web site, the two joined other conservative luminaries–Howard Phillips, Alan Keyes, and Phyllis Schlafley among them–on a two-day visit in February to impeached Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Judge Roy Moore, who lost his job last fall after refusing to remove a sculpture of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. And Dwyer told The Sun in a Feb. 3 article that he decided to run for delegate in 2002, his first bid for public office, after attending an Institute on the Constitution seminar. Ever since he arrived in Annapolis in 2003, he’s been rustling feathers–even yanking them on occasion by, for instance, suing the leader of the Anne Arundel legislative delegation over rule changes and questioning the patriotism of fellow lawmakers.


Peroutka’s budding influence in Annapolis and among some Christian Right Marylanders, along with his fund-raising ties to national far-right leaders, suggests he’s got some traction as a political player. Still, it almost goes without saying that he can forget about the White House.

“I don’t remember them, offhand,” University of Maryland political science professor Paul Herrnson jokes when asked what role the Constitution Party could play this election season. “Hold on, let me look them up in one of my books.”

His point, he says with a touch of hyperbole, is that “no one’s ever heard of them or cares about them, and that’s the problem with third-party politics in general.”

Others, such as Bob Moser, senior writer for civil-rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, who covered a Constitution Party gathering last April in Clackamas, Ore., think the party has legs, even if they’re spindly. “They’ve been reasonably successful–they’re still around,” Moser argues, distinguishing them from Ross Perot’s Reform Party, which has disintegrated since it nominated Buchanan for president in 2000. “A lot of the Perot people and Buchanan people have landed in the Constitution Party.”

But Moser says he isn’t impressed with Peroutka. The party, he explains, has in the past tried to draw big-name candidates–Marylander Alan Keyes, for instance, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, or Buchanan–but has always ended up with Howard Phillips at the top of the ticket. And Peroutka, despite his wealth and organizational capabilities, is not a big name either.

“If they nominate somebody like Peroutka, they’re not going to get any votes,” Moser says. “But if they nominate Judge Moore,” whose name has been bandied about for the nomination, and who Peroutka has said he would step aside for, “they’d get some votes. Moore could draw as many votes this time as Nader.”

As it is, Moser says, the party is so far “the only catch basin for disaffected conservatives” in the 2004 presidential elections. How many of those will bother to vote for the Constitution Party candidate is hard to ascertain, but he contends there is a “large element of really conservative Christians who might support the Constitution Party, but who cling to not getting involved in politics, as well as the militia and anti-government people who are not going to participate in the system in any way.”

“I can’t really confirm or deny the extent to which some people may ‘drop out’ due to disillusionment” with the system, Peroutka responds in his e-mail. But he believes that public interest in the Constitution Party’s ideas “is increasing as folks recognize that we have abandoned the worldview of our founders, disregarded the plain meaning of the Constitution, and drastically centralized power in Washington to the detriment of the common good.”

The Constitution Party, “like all organizations that stand for something, will not attract those who stand against that same something,” he continues. While Christian at its core, and thus not likely to attract non-Christian voters, “the Constitution Party welcomes those who support its platform and its mission to restore Constitutional government.”

What’s more, the party’s religious base is not at all unique in politics, Peroutka contends. “The ideology of all parties and organizations and individuals is inherently tied to religion,” he states, because “we act out what we believe.”

If that’s the case–that “we act out what we believe”–then Peroutka’s actions toward Dawn and Holly Hubbard suggest his beliefs may be out of whack with the Constitution Party’s stated platform. How that affects the party faithful’s support for his candidacy remains to be seen.