Mormons Spend Millions to Pass Prop 8, Get Fined Pennies

SACRAMENTO—The federal district court fight to overturn Proposition 8, which changed California's constitution to prohibit gays from marrying, is entering its final stages—with, of course, plenty of higher-level fighting to come. But one little-noticed story gives clues to the behind-the-scenes machinations used by the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) to make sure the proposition passed.

"When contributions of $1,000 or more are made during the final days of an election—the time between the last campaign report required to be filed and the end of the election—late contribution reports must be filed within 24 hours of making or receiving the 'late' contribution," read a report from California's Fair Political Practices Commission. "The following failed to file a late contribution report as required by law: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints failed to timely report making late non-monetary contributions totaling $36,928 in connection with the November 4, 2008, General Election. $5,539 fine."

The church, which originally claimed that it had spent just $2,078 on all campaigns in California, eventually admitted that the amount spent was closer to $190,000, and even that figure is questionable: The church put out dozens of solicitations and received over $20 million in contributions during 2008 to fund the passage of Prop 8. Moreover, the church was instrumental in the creation of the "National Organization for Marriage" (NOM), which was described by Dan Aiello of the California Progress Report as a "front organization" for the church. NOM contributed more than $2 million to the Yes on 8 campaign.

But apparently, that's not all the church has had its fingers in.

"According to [non-profit group Californians Against Hate], a spokesman for the Mormon Church, Don Eaton, said in an interview with KGO-TV (ABC San Francisco) prior to the election, 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put zero money in this'," Aiello wrote. "It was eventually learned that the Mormon Church coordinated contributions amounting to more than half of the $45 million Yes on Prop 8 campaign, as well as contributing non-monetarily to the campaign by sending Mormon campaign volunteers through the Church's 'mission' program and offering use of church ward (parish) properties throughout the state."

More troubling is the fact that a tax-exempt religious institution has provided money and manpower to enact the anti-gay legislation, in violation of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §501(c)(3), which says, "Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." [Emphasis added] (And in case you were wondering, "subsection (h)" doesn't apply to a church.)

Certainly, with the level of involvement in the Prop 8 campaign that the church has already admitted to, the IRS should take a hard look at revoking the Mormons' tax-exempt status.

And after the millions in donations and campaign workers that the church provided in the Prop 8 fight, what was that fine again? Oh, yeah: $5,538.

Or as science-blogger P.Z. Myers observed, "The lesson learned, I'm sure, is that when evil religious masterminds are plotting to commit serious ethical violations, they should plan ahead and budget 0.02% of their investment to paying off slap-of-the-wrist penalties."