Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prop. 8 campaign can't hide donors' names

Today a federal district court judge ruled against the Proposition 8 campaign's request that it not be compelled by state law to release the names of its campaign donors on February 2, when the next campaign finance disclosure reports are required to be filed. This San Francisco Chronicle article by Bob Egelko covers today's court actions. Excerpts are below.

Proposition 8 proponents' complaint that a California campaign-finance disclosure law has led to harassment of same-sex marriage opponents failed today to sway a federal judge, who refused to throw out the law or shield donors' names.

Lawyers for Protect Marriage, sponsor of the constitutional amendment that won voter approval Nov. 4, said contributors have already faced consumer boycotts, picketing and even death threats after the state posted their names and other information in mandatory campaign reports.

They argued that the law requiring disclosure of all donors of $100 or more interfered with the campaign's right to participate in the political process and should be struck down, modified to raise the dollar limits, or at least not applied to contributors to the measure outlawing same-sex marriage.

As a first step, the campaign sought an exemption from the state's post-election contribution report, due next week.

But U.S. District Judge Morrison England, after a one-hour hearing in Sacramento, said California's $100 reporting requirement - adopted by the voters in 1974 - is a valid means of informing the public about the financing of ballot measure campaigns.

"If there ever needs to be sunshine on a particular issue, it's a ballot measure," England said, observing that initiatives are often sponsored by committees with misleading names.

Some of the reprisals reported by the Prop. 8 committee involve legal activities such as boycotts and picketing, England said. He said other alleged actions, such as death threats, mailings of white powder and vandalism, may constitute "repugnant and despicable acts" but can be reported to law enforcement.

Even if there have been illegal reprisals, that would be insufficient reason to grant a wholesale exemption for a multimillion-dollar campaign with thousands of donors, the judge said.

Any desire by donors to remain anonymous is outweighed by the state's authority to require "full and fair disclosure of everyone who's involved in these political campaigns," England said.

Lawyers for Protect Marriage said they would not seek to block the next campaign filing, which is due Monday, but would take their case against the disclosure law to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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