SACRAMENTO - The chief of a state commission that enforces election law says that it will launch an investigation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding alleged violations in the Proposition 8 campaign.
The Fair Political Practices Commission has notified the Mormon church that it will investigate a claim that the church did not disclose the value of non-monetary campaign activities, including alleged phone bank operations from Utah and Idaho that targeted California voters. The complaint was filed Nov. 13 by Fred Karger, an activist who opposed the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage approved by 52 percent of voters on Election Day.
There is no timetable for the investigation, and the commission has made no determination about the validity of Karger's sworn complaint, filed with the commission under penalty of perjury.
"We'll be looking into the allegations," Roman Porter, the commission's executive director, said Tuesday. He said the timetable for the investigation would depend on a host of factors, including whether or not the commission would have to subpoena records and the cooperation of the complainant and those named in the complaint.
A spokeswoman said the LDS Church would cooperate fully and that the church is confident it had not violated state elections law.
"We will be sending information to the FPPC and believe that any investigation will confirm the church's compliance with applicable law," the spokeswoman, Kim Farah, said in a statement.
If violations are found, the commission has the ability to assess penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, and in certain cases to file civil lawsuits for up to three times the amount of unreported or inaccurately reported contributions. Porter declined to say whether the commission is investigating any other alleged violations in the Proposition 8 campaign.
The LDS church made only a relatively small donation to the Yes on 8 campaign - $2,864 on Nov. 1, according to reports filed to date with the California secretary of state. However, church members contributed up to 40 percent of the more than $40 million raised to back the same-sex marriage ban, including individual donations as large as $1 million, Yes on 8 campaign officials have said, and a surge of large donations late in the campaign may well boost that percentage when final reports are filed.
The latest filings with the state show that the two sides raised more than $82 million for the battle over Proposition 8. Over the last two and a half weeks before Election Day, the Yes on 8 campaign pulled in $10.5 million in out-of-state donations from large donors alone, with $5 million coming from the state of Utah, according to state records.
Those donations are not part of the allegations being investigated by the commission. But the role of the Mormon church and other religious organizations, including large monetary contributions by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus, a Connecticut-based Catholic fraternal organization, have sparked a debate about whether the principle of the separation of church and state was eroded during the Prop. 8 campaign. Some churches also made donations to the No on 8 campaign.
At issue in Karger's complaint is the disclosure of non-monetary contributions, including telephone bank operations allegedly organized by the LDS Church in Rexburg, Idaho, where Brigham Young University has a campus, and in Utah. Karger, a former political consultant who helped organize boycotts against Yes on 8 donors, said Tuesday that he learned about those operations by reports in local newspapers in those areas.
Karger said he was pleased the commission would investigate.
"Once you go out of the church membership and contact voters, that becomes a non-monetary contribution" that must be reported to the state, Karger said.