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Leaked memos: Gay rights group make new charges over LDS Prop 8 role

Published March 19, 2009 8:01 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A California group is urging election authorities to widen a probe into whether the LDS Church failed to report the full extent of its financial involvement last year in supporting a successful ban on same-sex marriage.

In new charges filed Thursday with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the Los Angeles-based Californians Against Hate accuses the church of creating the National Organization for Marriage in California as early as summer 2007 as a front group for its agenda, while failing to report the costs as required by California law.

The amended complaint also adds six other charges that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints delayed disclosure or vastly underreported other nonmonetary contributions to the campaign, including the costs of compensated staff time for senior church officials and production of 23 sophisticated TV and Web commercials.

What the church has disclosed "seems just to be the tip of the iceberg as far as what they spent in support of Prop 8,'' Californians Against Hate spokesman Fred Karger said.

The amended charges are the latest development in a backlash about Utah's heavy role in California's Proposition 8 campaign.

As many as 1,025 people and businesses in Utah donated $3.8 million to Proposition 8 efforts, with 70 percent going to campaigns supporting the measure. The proposition banning same-sex marriage passed narrowly in the Nov. 4 election and is being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

A church spokesman on Thursday said the new charges "have no basis in fact.''

''The church did not establish the National Organization for Marriage,'' LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said, adding that the church has disclosed its entire contribution to the pro-Proposition 8 effort. Karger, said Trotter, ''is entitled to his opinion but not to his own version of the facts.''

The head of the National Organization for Marriage bristled at the new charges, describing the group as a multifaith coalition and calling the allegation it was a LDS Church front group "outlandish.''

''There was no interaction between me and Salt Lake City with regard to us going to California at all,'' Executive Director Brian Brown said.

In a campaign disclosure filed Jan. 30, the LDS Church claimed at least $134,774 in previously unreported nonmonetary expenditures in support of Proposition 8, for activities it said it conducted between August and November. The disclosure, which brought the church's total reported spending to $189,904, also itemized $20,550 in travel costs to send church officials to California and $29,269 in audiovisual production services and equipment costs.

The Fair Political Practice Commission, which enforces California election laws, is already investigating the church's activities in the Proposition 8 campaign. Roman Porter, the commission's executive director, confirmed Wednesday the probe "remains active,'' but declined further comment.

Karger's initial complaint, filed Nov. 13, alleged that the LDS Church's unreported costs included the operation of phone banks in Utah and Idaho; direct mail efforts; volunteers walking precincts; lawn signs; a speakers bureau; and production of high-quality audiovisual materials.

The new allegations are based, in part, on what Karger in his sworn affidavit to the commission says are leaked internal LDS Church documents showing similarities between church efforts in California and an anti-same sex marriage campaign conducted in Hawaii 12 years ago. The group has released 11 documents, dated between Oct. 31, 1995, and Jan. 8, 1998, on the Web site mormongate.com

Church officials declined to discuss the documents or confirm their authenticity.

The memos -- 10 of which appear to have been written by the late Loren C. Dunn, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at the time -- reveal key aspects of the LDS Church's strategy in fighting same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Karger contends they also reveal a kind of electoral blueprint that the church modified for use in California.

Whether the documents bear any relevance to the Prop 8 efforts, they offer a glimpse into what appears to have been a major effort by senior church leaders at the time to battle same-sex marriage in a number of states, including Hawaii.

The memos focus on formation and operation of Hawaii's Future Today, the main group championing Hawaii's constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, and the church's desire that the group's members be drawn from diverse religious faiths.

''One reason I wanted us organized in Hawaii the way we are is because President [Gordon B.] Hinckley wanted it that way,'' Dunn supposedly wrote to the late Neal A. Maxwell, then a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, in a March 6, 1996, memo. ''A coalition is hard to attack. ...''

The same memo refers to a desire to publicly distance the LDS Church from the group while maintaining direct influence. "The ideas are introduced but the Church is not visible,'' the memo says.

The documents also outline efforts to keep church financial support secret. "... We have shielded previous donors from recognition because of how the funds were used in the preparation of this project,'' said a Dunn memo to Maxwell on March 21, 1996, ''but in the worst case scenario, current donors might be ferreted out.''

On June 5, 1996, Dunn supposedly wrote to Maxwell again, reassuring him that "[w]e have organized things so the Church contribution was used in an area of coalition activity that does not have to be reported.''

Panel investigating church involvement

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating the LDS Church's financial involvement in support of the successful Nov. 4 vote to ban same-sex marriage. A California group wants that investigation widened to include new allegations of underreporting of campaign contributions, which church officials deny. The commission is probably months away from finishing its probe.