The Indiana Youth Group, the Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation violated prohibitions against selling low-number license plates, said Dennis Rosebrough, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The Indiana Youth Group had signed a contract with the BMV that contained the provision, he said, while the other two groups had violated provisions of state law that said the same thing.
"The contract specifically states that they cannot in effect sell the plates, the low-digit plates, as they advertised they were doing on their website. The contract specifically prohibits that," Rosebrough said.
Rosebrough said the groups offered low-number plates in exchange for donations, which he said was essentially the same thing as selling them.
He also said the BMV did a comprehensive review of all the sponsor organizations' websites to determine how many might be in violation.
Indiana Youth Group executive director Mary Byrne denied selling the plates for additional money, saying they were awarded as thank you gifts for donations. She said the group saw other organizations doing the same thing so she didn't think it would be a problem. She believes they were "targeted."
"The senators do not want IYG to have this plate," she said. "Even though two other organizations are losing their plate also, those two other organizations would not lose their plates if it were not for IYG. These other two organizations have been doing this, as has everybody else who has those specialty plates. They've been using them as thank you gifts."
Two Republican state senators who signed the BMV letter said their only motivation in going after the Indiana Youth Group was a breach of contract.
"Had they not been in clear violation, this would not have happened," said Sen. Patricia Miller of Indianapolis.
She said she was surprised to learn the BMV had suspended two other organizations. But she said if other groups were selling plates, the gay-advocacy group should face the same penalty.
Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said there has been a growing concern in the Republican caucus about the proliferation of specialty plates and the confusion they could cause.
During the recently ended legislative session, a House committee had voted to pull the specialty plates from nearly three dozen organizations that sold fewer than 1,000 plates in 2011 — including the Indiana Youth Group. Instead, lawmakers decided to form a study committee.
Byrne said she understands how offering the low-number plates for donations could be perceived as selling them, but she said the low numbers were recognition of gifts. She compared it to public television station sending books or tickets to a concert as a reward to donors.
"Are you buying that book or are you buying that ticket or are you donating and getting those prizes?" she said.
Byrne said the organization had awarded 11 plates involving contributions of less than $2,000.
Messages seeking comment were left at the offices of the Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation by The Associated Press late Friday afternoon.
Byrne said the group plans to challenge the ruling, but isn't sure how it will do so.
Tom Coyne reported from South Bend.