News Coverage: Fines Proposed Against Mormon Church for Prop 8 Campaign Finance Violations

From the Human Rights Campaign:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fines Proposed Against Mormon Church for Prop 8 Campaign Finance Violations

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign today hailed a proposal by the California Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) that would fine The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) for failing to report all of its late non-monetary contributions in its efforts to pass Proposition 8 in California in 2008. While the recommended fine of just more than $5,500 for the unreported late contributions of $36,968 to the Yes on 8 campaign may seem inconsequential, it represents a pattern of blatant disregard for California election laws and provides ongoing evidence that the Mormon Church was a significant leader in the campaign to repeal marriage equality, even while it evaded standard reporting requirements and denied its involvement.

HRC President Joe Solmonese also commended the efforts of Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate, for filing the initial FPPC complaint that has shed light on the anti-equality activities of the Mormon Church. The issue, scheduled to be discussed at its June 10th meeting, follows the January 2009 admission by the Mormon Church to the FPPC that it failed to report in-kind contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign of $190,000. Previously the Mormon Church had failed to disclose its real involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign, as California law required it to do.

“Thanks to Fred Karger’s dogged pursuit of the truth, we now know the Mormon Church not only violated the law in its election work to pass Prop 8, it most likely did so purposely” said Solmonese. “It’s just not credible that a multi-billion dollar, sophisticated organization like the LDS Church didn’t know or understand the election law requirements. California requires early disclosure so voters know who’s behind these referendum fights and clearly, the Mormon Church worked overtime to keep their full involvement hidden from the people of California.”

A copy of the FPPC complaint is available at the link.

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News Coverage: NOM Ordered to Hand Over Donor Information

From the Maine Public Broadcasting Network:

NOM Ordered to Hand Over Donor Information
06/08/2010 12:03 PM ET

The National Organization for Marriage has been fighting the state’s efforts to find out who bankrolled the group’s $2 million contribution to last year’s successful campaign to overturn the Maine’s gay marriage law.

A federal appeals court in Boston has ordered the National Organization for Marriage to hand over information about its donors to the state.

The group, known by its initials “NOM” contributed nearly $2 million to last year’s successful campaign to overturn Maine’s gay marriage law. Opponents say NOM has failed to comply with the state’s financial disclosure law, a claim that is nowunder investigation by the state Ethics Commission.

NOM, meanwhile, has filed its own constitutional challenge of the state law, and Kate Simmons of the Maine Attorney Generals’ office says Monday’s ruling will help the state defend itself.

“NOM must reveal to the state how they raised the money, for what purpose and who it came from,” she says. “They were the largest single contributor to Stand for Marriage Maine, and as a part of Maine’s campaign finance laws, the state is working to find out how they raised that money and for what purpose.”

The court has ordered that any information handed over by NOM would have to remain confidential. Still, NOM president Brian Brown said Tuesday that his group will appeal the latest ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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News Coverage: Magistrate Judge says NOM Should Turn Over Donors’ Names

From The Maine Public Broadcasting Network:

Magistrate Judge says NOM Should
Turn Over Donors’ Names

A federal magistrate judge has ordered the national group that provided most of the funding to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law to turn over information about its donors. The magistrate rejected claims by the National Organization for Marriage that the donor names aren’t relevant to the issue before the court, and that releasing them would have a chilling effect on the group’s future fundraising efforts.

(Listen to the audio at the link)

The National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, contributed $1.9 million dollars to last year’s successful campaign to overturn Maine’s gay marriage law. But NOM has refused to comply with demands from state elections’ officials to hand over the names of donors, as required by Maine law.

While challening the Ethics Commission’s case, NOM has issued its own challenge in federal court, claiming Maine’s elections law is uncontitutional. In a preliminary ruling on evidence in that case filed on Sunday, federal Magistrate John H. Rich III ordered NOM to provide the Maine Attorney General’s office with donor information dating back to January 1st of last year.

“And we’re pleased with the federal magistrate’s preliminary decision that as a part of this litigation, NOM must share information about their donors with the Office of the Attorney General,” says AG spokeswoman Kate Simmons.

Simmons says the magistrate rejected NOM’s claim that releasing the names would have a chilling effect upon future fundraising efforts, in large part because of the court’s requirement that the information be kept confidential. “The information about their donors would only be disclosed to this office, and would not be a public document nor able to be shared with the public at large.”

NOM has claimed that the donor information might be used by the Ethics Commission in its case against the group. Simmons says it’s true that the information could be viewed by the Commission, but the magistrate has ruled that it may not be used against NOM in other legal challenges.

That issue, and others are now under appeal in federal court. While the appeals continue to fly, critics of NOM see the latest ruling as a victory.

“This decision is in keeping with every other decision that we’ve seen, in that they are just crying wolf,” says Fred Karger, founder of the group Californians Against Hate, which has been actively challenging NOM’s refusal to disclose the names of its donors. Karger alleges that they are, largely, members of the Mormon Church.

Karger says he applauds the ruling in Maine as another step in forcing NOM to open its books. “The National Organization for Marriage has spent the last three years trying to avoid that; they’ve conducted their business in secrecy,” Karger says. “They’re under investigation now in two states, and possibly a third, for this very action, and so I just commend the judge magistrate for trying to get to the bottom of their financing, which is one of the great mysteries of the world.”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne declined comment on the magistrate’s ruling. A spokesman for NOM could not be reached for comment by airtime.

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News Coverage: Gay group targets Romney

The banner ad ran online at the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the Boston Globe and the Salt Lake Tribune websites

From Ben Smith’s Politico column – January 20, 2010:

Gay group targets Romney

My colleague Ken Vogel reports that a California political operative whose hardball opposition to California’s 2008 anti-same-sex-marriage initiative generated controversy has set his sights on Mitt Romney:

Fred Karger, a prominent gay rights activist, later this week will launch a campaign urging Romney to lobby the Mormon Church to back down from its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Romney’s Mormonism hurt him during his unsuccessful 2008 bid for the GOP presidential nomination. And Karger’s campaign nods toward Romney’s 2012 presidential ambitions. Not only is it debuting roughly two years before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, but it will launch with an ad on the websites of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the Boston Globe and The Salt Lake Tribune.

The ad will link to the website of a new group called Rights Equal Rights, which is funded in part by Californians Against Hate, a leading opponent of the anti-same-sex ballot initiative. The website asserts that “as a national political leader and influential member of the Mormon Church, Mitt Romney could persuade church leaders to end their 15 years of active involvement, including their massive financial support, to oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.”

Kim Farrah, a spokeswoman for the Mormon Church, pointed out that the church itself “did not spend tens of millions of dollars in campaigns to ban gay marriages” — as Rights Equal Rights’ website claims — but also defended the church’s ability “to speak out on moral issues as part of the Democratic process.”

Though Romney holds no official role within the church beyond being a member, its leaders and membership strongly backed his 2008 presidential campaign and can be expected to align behind him if he runs again in 2012.

While reminders of Romney’s Mormonism won’t help him with the broader GOP electorate, reminders of his opposition to same-sex marriage might buoy his standing with social conservatives. In 2008, they held against him a pledge he made (http://www.politico.com/blogs/jonathanmartin/0807/Romneys_tonal_shift.html) during a 1994 Senate race to be a stronger advocate for gay rights than his opponent, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a champion of the gay community.

A Romney spokesman declined to comment on Karger’s effort, though during the presidential campaign, his aides asserted that his stances never shifted on gay issues. They pointed out that he had long been on record opposed to same-sex marriage, as well as discrimination against gays.

But Karger charged Romney had “flip-flopped. The new Mitt Romney would be a disaster for the gay community as president.”

Still, Karger asserted the target of his campaign is not Romney but, rather, the Mormon Church, which supported the California initiative.

Posted by Ben Smith 02:34 PM

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News Coverage: Ex-Political Pundit Embraces Gay Rights Activism

From The Laguna Beach Independent:

Ex-Political Pundit Embraces Gay Rights Activism

Fred Karger’s activism blossomed in the fight to preserve the now-defunct Boom Boom Room, seen here in an informal memorial garden for AIDS victims near the nightclub.

By Jennifer Erickson

Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger’s fight against the 2008 California ballot initiative to make same-sex marriage illegal has transformed him into a nationally known gay advocate as well as a target of a daunting lawsuit.

Yet, Karger, 59, had not even come out publicly until 2006 when beginning a local campaign to “Save the Boom,” the legendary gay Laguna Beach nightclub that closed in 2007.

Having worked as a political consultant in Los Angeles for 27 years, Karger’s activism was public, but his sexual orientation was very private. “I was scared to death of being found out,” said Karger of his years of secrecy. “Looking back, it’s hard to even imagine what I went through, the fear of being discovered for so many years…”

Karger’s involvement in politics began at the tender age of 10, attending a press conference with his grandmother in the suburbs of Chicago where he grew up. “I just always loved it,” he said, adding that he used to ride his bike to the local campaign headquarters of various politicians.

But political activism was a volunteer activity for Karger, who moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college in 1973. He didn’t consider it a career option and instead worked as an actor for three years. When his work became politics, Karger’s acting took on a more personal dimension.

After volunteering for the campaign of a state senator, Karger was hired by a political consulting firm run by Bill Roberts, who became his mentor. Their first major client was a state senator from Long Beach, George Deukmejian, then running for attorney general. The firm helped Deukmejian’s subsequent race for governor.

Karger worked for Roberts until his untimely death in 1988. By then, Karger was a partner in the firm, which would shift to corporate clients from politicians over the next decade.

Until his retirement to Laguna Beach in 2004, Karger successfully played the role of a straight man. “My acting background probably helped me put on a good act for a long time,” he said, admitting to an 11-year relationship with another man that neither his employer nor family knew about.

In Laguna, the tables turned. Instead of hiding his orientation to save his job, Karger’s self-appointed job is now to “save” gay rights.

“This is a very powerful story, because it is a story that is replicated all over the country and the world, the story of a man growing up who is gay and unable to deal with it for lots of reasons,” said Bob Gentry, Laguna’s first openly gay mayor, whom Karger considers his hero.

That Karger’s activism dovetailed so seamlessly with his coming out should be no surprise, Gentry said, since newfound freedom is empowering.

Saving the Boom saved Karger. He lamented the closing of gay bars in Santa Barbara, and was afraid that Laguna’s fate might be the same. He looked to Gentry for advice. “He gave me a pep talk and said ‘Don’t be afraid, you’re doing the right thing. Be proud of what you’re doing.’”

The Boom effort won him recognition in the gay community and proved the perfect segue into a far bigger battle.

Karger’s years of experience in politics attuned him to the need to question the role of big donors in the anti gay marriage Prop. 8 campaign. He looked at similar battles in other states and found that no one was challenging major donor opponents there either. Karger decided to take up the gauntlet, though it made some uneasy.

Since establishing Californians Against Hate in July 2008, Karger has strived for full disclosure of the people and organizations financing the campaign against gay marriage rights. “I wanted to make it socially unacceptable for people to give massive amounts of money to take away the rights of a minority,” said Karger. And despite voter approval of Proposition 8, he believes that has been accomplished, though not without personal cost to him.

Californians Against Hate filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission against the Mormon Church in November 2008 for failing to report numerous non-monetary contributions to ProtectMarriage. com, a coalition formed to support Prop 8. The enforcement division of the FPPC subsequently opened an investigation of the allegations made in the complaint.

When gay marriage opponents began supporting an initiative last year in Maine to overturn same-sex weddings, Karger called for another investigation, writing Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and its attorney general, detailing alleged election law violations by Stand for Marriage Maine.

Karger’s activism in September led to his entanglement in a federal lawsuit. He was served a subpoena by the National Organization for Marriage, organized to oppose same-sex marriage in state legislatures, in its suit against top California state officials over public records.

Karger anticipated what he believes is retaliation. The subpoena compels him to produce a daunting amount of records for Californians Against Hate since January 2008. He retained Stevens, O’Connell and Jacobs to represent him.

Gentry believes that Karger’s fight for transparency is fundamental to suppressing oppression of gay and lesbian people. Gentry is convinced that Karger’s opponents are trying to silence him since “they do not want our voice because our voice is a voice of honesty and transparency. Their voice is a voice of innuendo, prejudice and bigotry.”

It turns out, the subpoena held a silver lining, literally and figuratively. Last month, under both the emotional and financial strain, Karger set up a legal defense fund, “FiveforFred.com,” requesting five-dollar donations from supporters in an email plea. He discovered just how many people are already behind him.

He’s received more than $18,000 from people all over the country, much of it in five-dollar contributions. “The fact that I’ve gotten this huge amount of support is so meaningful and gratifying. Quite frankly it makes all the difference,” he said, and will help pay for the latest invoices from his attorneys.

According to Gentry, Karger “is becoming a hero to thousands of people who hear about him, because he gives them the strength to be themselves.”

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News Coverage: Campaign Clarity Needed

Check out this excellent Bangor Daily News Editorial (12/26/09) calling out NOM for violating Maine’s election laws. NOM did not report any of its contributor’s names, and it gave $1.9 million (64% of all money raised) to defeat same-sex marriage in last month’s election. Then NOM sued Maine election officials to invalidate all campaign reporting:

Campaign Clarity Needed

By BDN Staff

A lawsuit involving a national group opposed to gay marriage has far-reaching implications for the state’s campaign reporting and financing laws, especially since the National Organization for Marriage said it plans to advocate for supporters of “traditional marriage” in next year’s election.

In October, NOM filed suit in federal court claiming Maine’s referendum campaign finance reporting requirements were overly burdensome and, therefore, unconstitutional. Earlier this month, the group amended its complaint to U.S. District Court to include candidate elections. If its challenge is upheld, it would leave a big hole in the state’s reporting requirements and its Clean Election financing program, which relies on candidates’ reporting of donations to determine whether matching funds are warranted.

The group, based in New Jersey, contributed nearly $2 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, which successfully advocated a repeal of the state law allowing same-sex couples to marry. NOM has refused to disclose to state election officials where its money came from. State law requires groups or individuals that raise more than $5,000 to support or oppose a ballot question to register as a ballot question committee. Anyone who donates more than $100 to the committee must be identified in campaign finance reports.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices is investigating whether NOM violated state campaign finance laws by refusing to name its donors in connection with Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Attorneys for the group have argued that listing donors would discourage contributions because people would be afraid of retaliation.

Gay marriage is an emotional issue, but citing fear as a reason to flout the law is an unpersuasive argument, especially when thousands of donors are named — complete with their home or businesses addresses and occupations — on campaign finance reporting forms filed by groups on both sides of Question 1. National groups have been involved in many contentious campaigns since Maine’s reporting requirements have been in place. None has refused to comply with the law.

At the same time, there are varying levels of compliance. Some groups simply list “fund transfer” as a source of funding.

NOM’s argument that it raises money nationally to be used in many different states, rather than for a campaign in a specific state, is more complex. A close look at the group’s fundraising literature will clarify whether it was raising money for the Yes on 1 campaign in Maine. If it was, reporting is necessary, as it should also be for other national groups that contribute to Maine campaigns.

It may be that lawmakers need to reconsider Maine’s ballot committee law to clarify how such national fundraising should be handled, especially since it could influence Clean Election funding next year.

The bottom line is that Maine voters should be able to know who is trying to influence their vote.

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