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Probe into LDS Church's Prop 8 donations going forward

Published November 24, 2008 6:07 pm

California commission » Panel looks into nonmonetary contributions
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) confirmed Monday that it will investigate allegations that the LDS Church failed to report nonmonetary contributions to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.

An independent nonprofit organization, Californians Against Hate, called for the investigation after the measure passed earlier this month, effectively ending same-sex marriages in that state.

"They read my letter and I guess came to the conclusion that there's something worth looking into," said Fred Karger, who heads Californians Against Hate, which was formed to track donations in support of the ballot initiative. "I'm hopeful that the LDS Church will cooperate and share all the records and all the information they have about their activities in the Proposition 8 campaign."

Karger, a retired political consultant, alleged in his complaint that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints failed to report money invested to organize phone banks, send out direct mailers, provide transportation to California, mobilize a speakers bureau, send out satellite simulcasts and develop Web sites as well as numerous commercials and video broadcasts.

In the aftermath of Proposition 8's passage, outcry over the LDS Church's active role has included demonstrations outside temples in California, Utah and New York protesting what critics see as Mormons' contribution of a disproportionate amount of the measure's financial backing. By some measures, Latter-day Saints are believed to have contributed as much as $22 million to the cause.

The LDS Church did not comment on Monday's latest development but said earlier that Karger's complaint had "many errors and misstatements," that the church had "fully complied with the reporting requirements of the California Political Reform Act" and that "any investigation would confirm the church's full compliance with applicable law."

Karger, however, sees the fact that FPPC is moving forward as a good sign. He said his political attorney told him the commission looks into fewer than 5 percent of complaints, an indication in his mind that "when they do it, it's pretty serious."

But Roman Porter, executive director of FPPC, urges against jumping to conclusions. He wouldn't say how often investigations unfold and insisted that comparing complaints, which all have unique characteristics, would be inappropriate. He also said an investigation is nothing more than an investigation.

"We haven't made any determination about wrongdoing," Porter said, and he encouraged people to "reserve judgment."

Porter said no time line has been set for the investigation and he would not speculate on when the public will know more. But he did say if the FPPC determines fault, the commission could fine "up to $5,000 per violation," and in some cases might also file a civil lawsuit, which could lead to remedies amounting to "three times the amount of unreported or misreported contributions."

jravitz@sltrib.com