On Wednesday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the first religious organization to be fined for political malfeasance in California, according to Californians Against Hate (CAH), the non-profit organization that filed the complaint after voters narrowly approved the anti-marriage equality initiative, proposition 8, November, 2008.
Leaders of the Mormon Church “failed to timely report making late non-monetary contributions” to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign, an amount totaling $36,928, according to the June 10, 2010 finding by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), announced at the commission’s meeting Wednesday in Sacramento. The commission’s enforcement included levying a 15% punitive fine against the LDS organization, totaling $5,539 dollars.
The late reporting charges were just one part of the complaint CAH filed November 13, 2008, shortly after the anti-marriage equality initiative passed, and followed-up with a supplemental complaint filed March 18, 2009, as more information became public.
“[The fine] seems a little light since [the FPPC] only looked at $36,000 of their contributions, but it’s also historic because no church has ever been fined for illegal political activity in California before,” said Fred Karger, CAH founder. “In fact, it’s unprecedented.”
LDS spokesperson, Kim Farah, declined comment, referring instead to a public statement at the religious organization’s website which said Mormons “Mistakenly overlooked the daily reporting process” during the last two weeks of the campaign.
“When we accused them of contributing more money [than was reported], they stated publicly that our claims were false, but that turned out to be a lie – one of many,” said Karger, who was in Sacramento attending the FPPC meeting to make sure the fine was assessed. “It’s unbelievable, their arrogance, blatantly violating California election laws and lying repeatedly about their involvement in prop 8.
According to CAH, a spokesman for the Mormon Church, Don Eaton, said in an interview with KGO-TV (ABC San Francisco) prior to the election, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put zero money in this.”
It was eventually learned that the Mormon Church coordinated contributions amounting to more than half of the $45 million dollar Yes on Prop 8 campaign, as well as contributing non-monetarily to the campaign by sending Mormon campaign volunteers through the Church’s “mission” program and offering use of church ward (parish) properties throughout the state.
Karger noted that Mormon leadership has significant influence in Utah. Political scientists have referred to Utah’s form of government as a “Theo-Democracy,” because of the church’s influence over state politics and legislation. “No legislation passes without the approval of the Church leadership,” said Will Carlson of Equality Utah, a group that has been unsuccessful in passing statewide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Mormons active in the faith constitute approximately 75% of the Utah legislature and, because the Mormon church requires members to adhere to the wishes of LDS leadership or face excommunication, church leadership is able to exert significant influence over Utah politics.
The LDS exerts influence on social issues in Utah’s neighboring states, as well, creating what is known politically as “The Mormon Corridor,” from Eastern California to Colorado, Idaho to Arizona.
The complaint by Karger and CAH resulted in the FPPC’s 19-month investigation, leading to today’s decision. “They got off easy,” said Karger, “but this is only one state. They were involved in all 30 state [marriage] battles. This is just the beginning.”
Along with the complaint filed in California, Karger and CAH also filed a complaint “against the Mormon’s front organization, NOM [National Organization for Marriage],” Karger said. Maine’s Fair Political Practices Commission “voted 3-2 to investigate them and to turn over their donor names which they’re required to by law,” said Karger. “They contributed another $2 million dollars in that campaign.”
NOM is under investigation in the state of Maine for possible money laundering and failing to file the required campaign reports for that state’s Question 1 campaign. Question 1 took away gay marriage in Maine just last November.
The Maine investigation is ongoing.
Dan Aiello reports for the California Progress Report.