Prop 8 backers want to hide donors' info
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Backers of Proposition 8 have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to avoid disclosing information about their donors, charging that people who contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, and even death threats.
ProtectMarriage.com – Yes on 8 and the National Organization for Marriage, California filed the complaint Thursday, January 8, in federal district court in Sacramento.
The complaint calls California's Political Reform Act of 1974 "unconstitutional" because, among other things their right "to exercise their First Amendment rights free from threats, harassment, and reprisals outweigh the state's interest in compelled disclosure."
Prop 8, which eliminated same-sex couples right to marry in California, passed November 4, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Fred Karger, campaign manager for the anti-Prop 8 Californians Against Hate, said, "Things were said which were regrettable on both sides" of the campaign, but "that's what happens when you take away the rights of millions of people. They're going to be very, very angry."
Californians Against Hate compiled a "Dishonor Roll" of top Prop 8 contributors that was posted on its Web site during the campaign. The group also organized boycotts, including one against Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, after Doug Manchester, the chairman of the company that owns the hotel, contributed $125,000 to support Prop 8.
Asked about the impact the suit could have if it's successful, Karger said, "It's a frightening concept, particularly with the resources that the anti-gay conservative movement has."
Groups on both sides of Prop 8 raised at least $70 million combined.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints largely funded the campaign in support of Prop 8.
"The Mormon Church is definitely behind this," said Karger, who noted the lawsuit comes at a time when the state's Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating a complaint Karger filed against the church in November.
In that complaint, Karger charged that the Utah-based church violated California law by not reporting several non-monetary contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign. The commission's five members are among the defendants of the lawsuit filed last week, noted Karger.
Referring to the suit filed by Prop 8 supporters, Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the Mormon Church, told the Bay Area Reporter , "We did not know about the filing of this complaint nor were we consulted on its filing."
Roman Porter, the FPPC's executive director, wrote in an e-mail to the B.A.R. that the commission had no comment on the lawsuit. Asked about the status of Karger's complaint, he wrote, "We do not provide status updates on commission investigations."
Californians Against Hate isn't named as a defendant in the suit, but the group is mentioned in the complaint.
The complaint lists several examples of the alleged threats made to people supporting Prop 8.
One message said, "Consider yourself lucky. If I had a gun I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter. ... I've also got a little surprise for Pasor [sic] Franklin and his congregation of lowlifeĠs [sic] in the coming future. ... He will be meeting his maker sooner than expected. ... If you thought 9/11 was bad, you haven't seen anything yet."
Another message said, "I just wanted to call and let you know what a great picture that was of you and the other Nazi's [sic] in the newspaper ... we have plans for you and your friends."
The Yes on 8 groups claim their supporters have also had property vandalized, and several people have been forced to quit their jobs.
Karger said of the plaitiffs' complaints, "I'm sure they're embellishing the facts."
In fact, Scott Eckern, director of the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento, resigned after it became known that he donated $1,000 to Yes on 8. Los Angeles Film Festival director Richard Raddon also quit his post after it was reported that he donated $1,500 to the Prop 8 campaign.
Additionally, boycotts have been launched against companies affiliated with prop 8 backers. The Cinemark theater chain was the subject of a boycott by San Francisco Movie Bears and others after it was learned that CEO Alan Stock donated $9,999 to Yes on 8.
Karger said the kinds of things that Prop 8 supporters are reporting comes with the territory.
Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, said a number of police reports have been filed regarding the incidents mentioned in the suit, and criminal investigations are under way on alleged threats to pastors' lives throughout the Central Valley and Southern California. He declined to provide more specifics.
The lawsuit, which was filed by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, came about because Prop 8 opponents went "well beyond" boycotts and into intimidation, harassment, and physical threats, said Prentice.
Asked if he thought it would be okay if people were prevented from seeing who contributed to a pro-same-sex marriage ballot measure, Prentice said he'd prefer not to know if it meant disclosure would lead to exposing people to ongoing intimidation and threats.
But last fall, before the election, Prentice and other Prop 8 backers attempted some intimidation of their own.
The Yes on 8 campaign reportedly targeted at least 30 businesses with a letter, signed by Prentice and others, demanding that they support the measure or risk being "outed" as opponents of traditional marriage.
The targets included Jim Abbott, president and owner of Abbott and Associates and Abbott Realty Group in San Diego, who estimated that about $10,000 to $15,000 he's given to Equality California, one of the organizations that led the effort to defeat Prop 8, was used to help fight the measure.
Abbott married his same-sex partner in August.
Asked about the lawsuit filed last week, Abbott said it "does not at all surprise me," noting Prop 8 supporters have also asked the state Supreme Court to nullify the 18,000 same-sex marriages that occurred over the summer and fall, before Prop 8 passed. The move "speaks to the kind of people they are," said Abbott.
The Political Reform Act, adopted as a statewide initiative in 1974 – the same year the Watergate scandal led to President Richard Nixon's resignation – requires detailed disclosure of the role of money in California politics, including the disclosure of contributions and expenditures related to ballot measures.
Among other things, contributors have to provide their name, address, occupation, and employer. Contributors' detailed addresses are typically not available on the secretary of state's Web site.
The next reports related to the November election are due to the secretary of state February 2 and will include all contributions from October 19 to December 31, 2008.
In their lawsuit, Prop 8's backers object to having to file the next reports, stating there's no "valid, compelling interest" to have disclosure once all ballots have been cast.
Prop 8 proponents also want to have all campaign records from the election expunged.
"It's our hope precedent can be set by a legal decision that would protect people in social issue campaigns," Prentice said. The lawsuit cites the U.S. Supreme Court in saying that unlike candidate elections, there's no "corruption interest," where "disclosure can deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance thereof," in the context of ballot measure elections.
Prop 8's backers aren't the first group to file this kind of lawsuit.
According to the complaint, in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Socialist Workers 1974 Campaign Committee had "demonstrated a 'reasonable probability' that compelled disclosure would subject those identified to 'threats, harassment, or reprisals.'"
Campaign finance experts around the country indicated if the lawsuit is successful, it could be damaging.
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said a victory would "absolutely" be harmful to transparency. But Prop 8's opponents have gone too far, he said, "and this is the result of their actions."
"The question is whether or not the court will decide the entire law is unconstitutional," or in this case, initiative backers don't have to file donors' data, or the court could determine the plaintiffs haven't proved enough damages, said Stern.
Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., said, "It's unfortunate that the disclosures that are already out there have been used to punish people or harass them because of their political choices, but it's still important that this information be publicly available."
"The initiative process in particular can be dominated by special interests who may be completely out of sync with public opinion," said Massie.
"It's essential that citizens be able to determine whether the issues on their ballot are being financially supported by a broad base of people and organizations, or whether they're entirely funded by a small group or by a small, wealthy group," he said.
Edwin Bender, executive director of the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, said, "Just not putting names out there isn't really going to solve anything. People are going to find out one way or another."
Some lawmakers are already saying disclosure laws are too onerous, and the suit could be a reversal in the work that's been done since Watergate to increase transparency, he said.