Campaigns against Prop. 8 fined $80,000 for reporting violations
Three political committees that fought a 2008 ballot measure banning gay marriage in California have agreed to pay $80,000 in fines to the state ethics agency after admitting they violated campaign finance rules.
The fines come less than a month after the state Fair Political Practices Commission levied $49,000 in fines against ProtectMarriage.com -- Yes on 8 for failing to properly report more than $1 million in contributions.
Altogether, the fines against the four political committees on both sides of the issue represent some of the largest penalties imposed over a ballot measure in California, and a reflection of how hard-fought and bitter a contest it was, officials said.
"An unprecedented number of contributions" hindered the ability of the campaigns to report them all within strict deadlines, said Steve Mele, treasurer for the campaign committee No on 8, Equality for All. That campaign agreed to pay $42,500 in fines for failing to meet deadlines for reporting $724,000 in contributions.
Similar violations resulted in the Human Rights Campaign California Marriage PAC -- No on Prop. 8 Committee agreeing to pay $6,000 in fines, and Equality California Issues PAC paying $31,500 in penalties. The commission meets Sept. 13 to vote on accepting the fines agreed to by the campaigns and its enforcement staff.
Proposition 8 generated passion on both sides of the issue bringing in hundreds of thousands of mostly small contributions from all over the country. The opponents alone spent $40 million, and the records of all the contributors were so lengthy they crashed the Secretary of State’s website.
The Human Rights Campaign committee made a "good-faith effort'' over the fast six-month campaign to comply, said spokesman Michael Cole Schwartz.
The enforcement staff of the state ethics agency recommended lower-than-maximum fines in part out of acknowledgment the late reporting involved a small fraction of the total contributions.
"Such fines are imposed on virtually every campaign of this type, and given the unprecedented magnitude of small donations to the campaign, it’s no surprise that this campaign was fined," said Stephan A. Roth, a principal with Equality California. "Campaign leadership acted responsibly to ensure that enough money was retained at the end of the campaign to cover any fine."
Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for California Common Cause, said he can’t recall an initiative in which the various campaigns had so many violations. Many campaigns, he said "calculate the fines as the cost of doing business. This occurs often with initiative campaigns because the fines are so low and there are no individuals held accountable to any criminal charges."
-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: Steve Ledoux, left, and his spouse, Mark Becktold, who were married before Proposition 8 was passed, are shown in February celebrating an appellate panel ruling striking down the measure. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times