CommunityPam's House Blend

Preserve Marriage Washington Gives Churches Illegal Fundraising Instructions

Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington

Preserve Marriage Washington, the campaign opposing Washington state’s freedom to marry law, has attracted the attention of the state’s Public Disclosure Commission because its fundraising instructions to churches are “not in compliance with state law”, according to the Seattle Times:

The fact that churches can call for or allow special collections on behalf of a campaign is not in question. The means in which the donations from these collections can be forwarded on to the campaign is where state election laws kick in.

Because of so-called anti-bundling restrictions that stem from a voter-approved initiative that regulates political contributions and campaign spending, churches can hand out envelopes at Mass but they can’t collect them and send them in to the campaign. Either a member of Preserve Washington has to be on hand to collect them, or parishioners must send them in individually, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Preserve Marriage Washington’s website has a special “church tools” section that has specific “Instructions for Churches,” and as of the end of last week, it directed churches to collect “all envelopes from donors, put them in a larger mailing envelope, put your church name and return address on the mailing envelopes and send it via regular U.S. mail” to the campaign.

As of Tuesday, the wording on Preserve Marriage’s website had been changed, and instead of the churches being told to forward the envelopes, they are now asked to “designate a volunteer to collect all envelopes from donors, put the envelopes in a larger mailing envelope, provide their personal address as the return address, and mail them via regular U.S. mail” to the campaign.

Anderson said that the new wording is still not fully in compliance with state law.

“The campaign needs to designate a volunteer, not the church,” Anderson said. Anderson said that the PDC would contact the campaign again to clarify that point.

Preserve Marriage Washington relied heavily on conservative religious groups to circulate the referendum petitions earlier this year. Now, apparently, they are relying on those same religious groups to fundraise for them as well. PMW’s own fundraising efforts have produced amemic results, with only $510,000 raised to date.

Apparently to help make up for the shortfall, the Roman Catholic bishops of Yakima and Spokane are planning a take special “in-pew collections” on behalf of Preserve Marriage Washington this month, according to Bishop Tyson of Yakima (see letter, right) and PMW’s deputy campaign manager Chris Plante.

What was undoubtedly seen earlier by PMW’s chairman Joseph Backholm as a clever use of preexisting religious networks has, through mismanagement, become a confusing mess. “I am being inundated with questions from individuals and pastors regarding recent articles in the Seattle Times and other news organizations across the state concerning the Preserve Marriage Campaign not being in compliance with the Public Disclosure Commission and current campaign finance law,” wrote Gary Randall, a pastor who actively opposes the freedom to marry law but has been shut out of PMW’s campaign. “I am not a part of the Preserve Marriage organization. I believe Joseph Backholm and Chris Plante lead it.”

Meanwhile Washington United for Marriage, the broad coalition working to defend the state’s freedom to marry law through its Approve Referendum 74 campaign, has raised nearly $7.2 million from 13,866 individual contributors.

“We are so energized by the confidence so many people and organizations have placed in our campaign and the drive to defend our marriage law in November,” said Zach Silk, WUM’s campaign manager, in a press release. “With the campaign season now fully in gear, we’ve got a broad and deep field organization in literally every corner of the state and none of that would have been possible without the generosity of our donors.”

Late in August WUM announced that it had reserved $5 million in television time, with ads due to start running this month. The campaign has also drawn major contributions and endorsements from a broad spectrum of faith communities, unions, and businesses, Expedia being the most recent to sign on.

WUM reports that it has built one of the largest field campaigns for a ballot measure in Washington state history, including:

  • 33 field staff are operating out of seven offices statewide, including three new operations in Tacoma, Shoreline and Bellevue.
  • Volunteers are calling voters across the state from 50 separate phone banks every week. The number of calls to voters in August increased 300% over the number placed in July.
  • The total number of active volunteers now exceeds 2,800.

Referendum 74 asks voters to either approve or reject the freedom to marry law passed earlier this year with bipartisan majorities in the state legislature and signed by Gov. Gregoire. Referendum 74 will appear on the ballot as follows:

Ballot Title
The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.

This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.

Should this bill be:
Approved [ ]
Rejected [ ]

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Laurel Ramseyer

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