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LDS Church fined for tardy financial reports during Prop 8

Published June 9, 2010 9:57 am

California • Agency seeking $5,539 for election-law violation.
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The LDS Church has agreed to pay a fine to California for failing to report, on time, contributions the Utah-based faith made in fall 2008 to help overturn gay marriage in the Golden State.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission's staff has determined the LDS Church violated the state's political-contributions law in the days leading up to passage of Proposition 8. The agency has proposed a $5,539 fine, representing 15 percent of the $36,928 in contributions to the "Yes on 8" campaign that the LDS Church did not report on time.

The commission will vote Thursday on whether to approve the penalty.

"The church appreciates the fairness and consideration with which the Fair Political Practices Commission has addressed this oversight," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said in a statement.

"In the last two weeks leading up to the election, the church mistakenly overlooked the daily reporting requirement and instead reported those contributions together in a later filing."

Fred Karger, who filed the original complaint with the commission, said Tuesday the fine validates his allegations that the LDS Church tried to "cover up" its role in banning same-sex marriage in California.

"They have absolutely every right — as any religious organization, any individual, any business owner, union, whomever — to be involved," he said. "But they must comply with the law if they are going to be involved in politics. That's what they've been covering up."

Trotter insisted the church reported all "institutional contributions" to the "appropriate authorities in California." The church waited until Jan. 30, 2009 — months after the Prop 8 vote — to report $134,774 of the $189,904 it spent on the campaign. The money went to "Yes on 8" leader ProtectMarriage.com.

"Claims that the church misrepresented its contributions to the ProtectMarriage Coalition are false," Trotter said.

Roman Porter, the commission's executive director, said Tuesday there are not any additional outstanding complaints against the LDS Church for its financial reporting on Prop 8. The agreement for the fine, he noted, addresses "all of the issues" related to Karger's complaint, which included additional charges of under-reporting by the church.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, praised the commission and Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate.

"It's just not credible that a multibillion-dollar, sophisticated organization like the LDS Church didn't know or understand the election-law requirements," Joe Solmonese, HRC president, said in a statement.

"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."

rwinters@sltrib.com