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Probe of Mormon Church Underway

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The California Fair Political Practices Commission announced today that it will investigate allegations that the Mormon Church failed to report in-kind contributions to the YES-on-Prop-8 campaign.

As we conveyed to readers here on November 13, Californians Against Hate filed a complaint charging that the Mormon Church drastically underreported its non-monetary contributions to the h8 campaign:

Fred Karger, the founder of Californians Against Hate, submitted the complaint to the enforcement division of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency that regulates campaign activity.

Karger alleges that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ran out-of-state phone banks, produced commercials and provided other services that must be reported as contributions to the Proposition 8 campaign.

"Let’s be transparent here. If they are going to play in the political process, they need to abide by the rules like everyone else," he said.

Karger also notified the attorneys general of California and Utah, where the Mormon church is based.  

Today, Karger’s complaint was certified by the CFPPC:

"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.

The Mormon Church, for consumption in the hometown Salt Lake Tribune, poo-pooed the investigation:

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."

Noting that the CFPPC takes up fewer than five percent of the complaints it receives, Karger is pleased his complaint has reached maturity and will be investigated. Of course, the CFPPC recommends that no one start celebrating yet:

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."

It’s important to understand that this is not some toothless state agency — they laid a $190,000 fine on Senator Dianne Feinstein in 1992 for her gubernatorial campaign finance violations and only last year levied a $350,000 fine against State Senator Carole Migden.

These regulators take their job seriously. Let’s hope they look carefully at the Mormon Church’s activities in California — and if they find violations, make it expensive and embarrassing to meddle in a civil rights fight far from home.

{h/t Gloria} 

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Teddy Partridge

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