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Mormon Church insists its Proposition 8 donations were small

Gay The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contributed about $189,000 in "in-kind" donations to the campaign for the ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California -- but the church wants to make it clear that that wasn't such a large sum.

In a statement, church officials noted that the contributions were a tiny fraction of the roughly $4 million raised by the "Yes on Proposition 8" forces. (The number does not include church members who made individual donations.)

State election officials are looking into allegations by Prop. 8 foes that the church has under-reported its financial contributions to the gay-marriage fight. The latest campaign-donation disclosures, released this week, were normal filings and not related to the investigation, the church said.

The church, "like other organizations on both sides of the ballot issue, was required to publicly file these donations by the 31 January deadline," officials said in a statement. "The church has been filing required contribution reports throughout the campaign."

Focus on the Family donated $657,000 to "Yes on 8." Among big donors on the "No on Prop. 8" side: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ($20,000) and the California Democratic Central Committee (more than $350,000).

--Shelby Grad

Photo: Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (32)

Now is not too early for the next stage of restoring marriage' sanctity.

CA Voters should sign petitions to change the CA State Constitution to abolish Divorce and re-criminalize Adultery.

I don't really care whether the Mormon church thinks its contribution to the Proposition 8 campaign "wasn't a large sum." How is it, exactly, that they can get involved with political advocacy and still manage to keep their tax-exempt status?

We really need a clear precedent here. My staunchly no-on-8 church donated nothing, even through in-kind donations, because our lawyer considered doing so a violation of our tax-exempt status (since a California initiative is a direct legislative process). Even putting up no-on-8 signs in front of the church was considered a gray area, but the church decided to anyway, since they were privately donated and not using any church resources. Of course, the signs were stolen and the church vandalized the next day (not that we think the yes-on-8 people had anything to do with that), so there was no issue there ultimately.

If the government would just come out and tell us what level of participation is acceptable, clear-thinking churches like mine could easily match and counteract this sort of participation next time around.

Let's get the numbers right...total amount raised by prop 8 backers was approx. $40M, not $4M. An amount less than the amount raised and spent by prop 8 opponents. So, why is this news? The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS church continues to disclose, as required by law, its support of prop 8. And, on top of that, only in-kind donations were made, no cash donations. Not very juicy. I thought it was pretty well known that the Church was involved in Prop 8. Also, how can they "under-report" when the reporting deadlines had not passed. Sounds like a witch hunt to me. Why no news about how Prop 8 donors have been targeted by Prop 8 opponents for discrimination, death threats, vandalism, etc. (all documented!)?

"How is it, exactly, that they can get involved with political advocacy and still
manage to keep their tax-exempt status?"

Because they are advocating a position on an issue (The law allows), and not advocating a particular candidate (The law doesn't allow). Also it cannot be a more than a substantial part, >5%, of what the non-profit does (this is where the law isn't clear). Yes the church put in ~$200k in in-kind (not money) donations, but that is probably a fraction of one months electric bill for the tens of thousands of church buildings that the church operates across the world. The church as 13 million members, and that would be 1.5 pennies per member. This is clearly not substantial to the operations of the church.

Here is an article from the Pro-Gay side on this issue: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/11/7/144813/561

Chuck A 2/3 @ 8:20am, re: your question, "How is it, exactly, that they can get involved with political advocacy and still manage to keep their tax-exempt status?"
.
Here's the link to legal analysis by a No-On-8-firendly expert.:
http://pageoneq.com/news/2009/mormon011309.html
.
I hope the helps you to understand that we don't lose our rights as citizens to vote, donate, and talk about our views.

The law is already clear, and Jim's church unfortunately has a bad lawyer. The Mormons apparently have very good lawyers. It is well within any organization's rights (even a church) to participate fully -- money, in-kind contributions, whatever -- in ISSUE politics. If a church were to take this kind of stance with a particular candidate, which the Mormons never do, it would be a gross violation of long-standing campaign finance and other related laws. But the Constitution (and many related precedential cases which flow therefrom) make it clear that any organization has a right of free speech to participate in the democratic process with respect to ISSUES -- such as Prop 8. Even very liberal political activists (e.g., Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) have advised gay-activist groups not to waste their time on the tax-exempt status of the Mormons, because the Mormons have acted well within their legal rights to participate as they did.

Those who are mystified as to why the Mormons can do all this and not lose their tax-exempt status are, unfortunately, merely ignorant of well-settled law.

A church's tax exempt status is only jeopardized if the amounts (in-kind or cash) given to such a cause is a "substantial" amount in comparison to that Church's other charitable or other causes. Since the Mormon Church has donated over $1 Billion in the last 20 years for disaster relief efforts worldwide, a $189,000 "in-kind" donation, becomes something less than "substantial". Also, keep in mind that groups like PETA enjoy the same tax exempt classification, and they donate to causes much more "political" than Marriage. However, no one seems to be calling for thier tax exempt status to be revoked. Let's keep it real.

Sorry Jim, we all kind of ganged up on you there...that issue just highlights a larger philosophical one surrounding how this debate should be conducted. I think most fair minded folks on both sides would prefer to argue the merits of their position in a civilized way, rather than simply try and silence the other side through legal voodoo or intimidation.

They ignored much larger and more controversial donors to "No on 8". Google gave $1 million to "No on 8". Much worse, the teacher's union gave $1 million! Since the teacher's union gets mandatory dues from government school teachers, with a difficult opt-out process for those members who took the effort to refuse to provide their dues for this, in essence taxpayer money was used for "No on 8".

In essence, this story lied by omission.

They ignored much larger and more controversial donors to "No on 8". Google for example gave $1 million to "No on 8".

Much worse, the teacher's union gave $1 million as well! Since the teacher's union gets mandatory dues from government school teachers, with a difficult opt-out process for those members who took the effort to refuse to provide their dues for this, in essence taxpayer money was used for "No on 8".

The story lied by omission.

With due respect to everyone who is saying "the law IS clear" ... it's not. A church down the road from me was threatened with the revocation of its tax-exempt status because its priest said that Christians should vote for peace. (The fact that he endorsed no candidate, and that neither major-party Presidential candidate at the time was pro-peace did not dissuade the investigation.)

The message we all got, loud and clear, is that the law is clear only when you're on the side of the neocons, and anyone else can be persecuted.

As a direct legislative process, California initiatives are simply not covered under the Federal tax code. There are many, many churches out there who simply don't want to risk it. THAT is why we want the law to be made explicit.

Also, I'd add:

1) It's not a Constitutional issue; prior to the law passed in the 1950's that banned candidate endorsements, churches and other nonprofits could and did endorse candidates.

2) The percentage has been held by various judges to be 5-15%, since the law doesn't specified the percentage.

Chuck wrote:

"My staunchly no-on-8 church donated nothing, even through in-kind donations, because our lawyer considered doing so a violation of our tax-exempt status (since a California initiative is a direct legislative process)."

Chuck, I'm not a tax attorney, but I am a law student, and I have spoken with IRS attorneys who assure me that the law is clear that churches are free to comment on any social, political, or moral issues, even if they are up for direct legislation. However, churches cross the line only when they speak out for or against political candidates. Thus, the LDS Church could rightfully express its opinion on gay marriage; it didn't run afoul of any laws because it did not endorse any political _candidate_.

MIke: "Why no news about how Prop 8 donors have been targeted by Prop 8 opponents for discrimination, death threats, vandalism, etc. (all documented!)?"

I think you mean, "Why no confirmation about the hearsay I've read and passed around the internet about rampant gay violence?" Anti-8 boycotts received extensive media coverage, but evidently sloppily repainting that as "discrimination" wasn't enough for you, so sick imaginations go to work. Both sides have seen vandalism, angry threats, and even assault, so let's not hear any more of this whining from the Yes-on-8 people, the only side to take something from someone else in this debate.

mike, yeah, I concur. I would much rather have both sides respect the other's opinions and find common ground rather than alienating the opposition. I just wish that doing so was good "news" so common sense could get some air time instead of the tiny percentage on both sides that resorts to vandalism and violence...

And sorry for the accusatory tone, Mike, but the kinds of accusations you presented evoke a defensive reaction. I agree with Jim that respectful debate should happen, but at the same time I feel that failing to fight fire with fire was the reason that Prop 8 won in the first place.

Legal or not, churches shouldn't be using the law to punish people who don't follow their beliefs.
The supreme court has said: "The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections"

To answer the question "How is it, exactly, that they (LDS) can get involved with political advocacy and still manage to keep their tax-exempt status?"... Because it's technically legal to do so. I think you are missing the overall picture. Tax laws in relation to churches in America are entirely corrupt in the sense that churches don't really have to pay them. Why? because they're a church.... I mean I can see why they have campaign disclosure laws even though as a result of disclosure laws people are in danger of being harassed... But I don't see why it is necessary that a church doesn't have to pay taxes.. Does that mean if I start a church of atheism/evolution and establish property somewhere, I don't have to pay taxes on it because I called it a church? In parts of Europe, churches are treated like every other establishment in their societies, in the sense that THEY PAY TAXES on their property!!! Bottom Line: I don't think we should blame the Mormons for everything and have them take the backburner. I think every single individual church, whether they vote No or Yes on Proposition Whatever should have to pay taxes, and on a minor note.... the State of California could use all the money it can get, so it's time people start paying up and losing privileges that stand no logic or reasoning behind them!

Justin has identified the larger issue: there is no sensible reason why churches should be tax-exempt. Donations to educational and charitable organizations including churches should be deductible, but the organizations themselves should pay taxes, as do the rest of us, to support the government which (in principle, at least) protects all of us.

It doesn't matter how much you Mormons donated. You still don't get what this is all about. Voters want transparency regarding ballot initiatives, and your church tried to cover your involvement from Day One. And the attack on disclosure laws is another proof of this.

John, read the press release:

http://tinyurl.com/agfdht

There was no hiding of anything. Reports came in as they came in. Why would any church officials hide 200,000 dollars of in-kind donations?

The California TEACHERS association gave one million dollars in cash, and no one cares.

Ruby,

You can't reasonably expect others to share your confidence in the trustworthiness of that press release. It's not as if the LDS church is a disinterested party in all of this, so don't be surprised if others take their press releases with a grain of salt.

And if you read that LDS press release closely, I believe you'll find that the authors do not go so far as to insist that LDS reports were filed in timely fashion. As far as I can tell, those reports weren't, but that's really a determination for the FPPC to make, isn't it? Until they do, talking about how much other groups may have donated, or the relative percentage of Prop 8 funds that originated from the LDS church, looks like trying to change the subject.

Monson B-B-B-B-BUSTED
cough up the $5,000.oo fine for EACH undeclared non monetary donation.

I would like to see more news about the violence and vandalism against Mormons and other pro-8 groups. There has not been one article about this subject in this paper - or in any other California paper! This whole mess is really about this: Liberals who want their rights, want everyone to have rights, unless those other people disagree. Then they are not allowed to speak their mind. How about a little balanced reporting!?!

 
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