Thursday, January 8, 2009

Calif. gay marriage foes want donors anonymous

What should we say we have been living with harassment for a life time. Now they know what it feel like.
Calif. gay marriage foes want donors anonymous

By STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer

Thursday, January 8, 2009

(01-08) 18:28 PST Sacramento, CA (AP) --

Supporters of the November ballot measure that banned gay marriages in California have filed a lawsuit seeking to block their campaign finance records from public view, saying the reports have led to harassment of donors.

"No one should have to worry about getting a death threat because of the way he or she votes," said James Bopp Jr., an attorney representing two groups that supported Proposition 8, Protect and the National Organization for Marriage California.

"This lawsuit will protect the right of all people to help support causes they agree with, without having to worry about harassment or threats."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to order the secretary of state's office to remove all donations for the proposition from its Web site. The groups announced the lawsuit Thursday.

It also asks the court to relieve the two groups and "all similarly situated persons" from having to meet the state's campaign disclosure requirements. That would include having to file a final report on Proposition 8 contributions at the end of January, as well as reports for any future campaigns the groups undertake.

Proposition 8, approved by 52.3 percent of California voters on Nov. 4, overturned a state Supreme Court decision that declared the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The measure's opponents have gone back to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the proposition.

The lawsuit by Bopp's clients cites a series of incidents in which those who gave money to support the ballot measure have received threatening phone calls, e-mails and postcards. One woman reported being told, "If I had a gun, I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter."

Another donor had a widow broken, one had a flier distributed around his hometown calling him a bigot and others have received envelopes containing suspicious white power, according to the lawsuit.

Businesses have been threatened with boycotts because people who worked there contributed to the Proposition 8 campaign, the suit said. In Sacramento, the artistic director of the musical theater company resigned after his $1,000 donation to the Proposition 8 campaign was made public, prompting threats to boycott the company's productions.

Supporters of the gay marriage ban fear the donor backlash will hurt their efforts to raise money in the future, perhaps to fight a ballot initiative seeking to overturn the constitutional amendment.

"Several donors have indicated that they will not contribute to committee plaintiffs or similar organizations in the future because of the threats and harassment directed at them as a result of their contributions ... and the public disclosure of that fact," the lawsuit said.

"Indeed, there is significant evidence that, because of the disclosure of their names, donations to groups supporting the passage of Proposition 8 led directly to those donors being singled out for threats, harassment and reprisals."

The lawsuit said courts have held that laws requiring disclosure of campaign contributions can be overturned or restricted if a group can make "an uncontroverted showing" that identifying its members can result in economic reprisals or threats of physical coercion.

California's current campaign finance laws date to the Political Reform Act of 1974, a voter-approved initiative that established disclosure requirements for candidates and campaign committees.

The secretary of state's office and another defendant, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, had no immediate comment on the suit.

But Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the gay-rights group that led the campaign against Proposition 8, called it hypocritical for supporters of the measure to try to overturn voter-approved campaign finance laws.

He said Proposition 8 supporters used campaign finance records during the campaign to threaten and attack gay-rights supporters.

"They've used these records to attack corporations, to attack individuals," Kors said. "The Yes on 8 campaign sent blackmail letters to No on 8 supporters.

"It's just amazing hypocrisy. But it's the kind of tactics we've seen from them throughout the campaign and time and time again since."

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a group that supports public access to government records and meetings, said the lawsuit is likely to be unsuccessful. But he also said the plaintiffs' arguments are not trivial.

"The problem with their argument, of course, is that campaign finance laws, both at the state and federal level, have been litigated endlessly now since Watergate and the argument has, in one form or another, been rejected."

He said courts have consistently failed to agree that contributors have a right to donate directly and anonymously to a candidate or campaign. He said some states choose to have less restrictive reporting requirements, but they always include disclosure of donors.

"It loses in the end, but it's not as crazy an idea or an argument as it may first appear to some people," Scheer said.


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