How the Mormon Church Bought Prop. 8

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It’s one of the biggest “Take Out The Trash Day” stories we’ve ever run across. On Friday, the Church of Latter-Day Saints finally fessed up that its financial involvement in Prop. 8 was significantly larger than it previously maintained. The Mormon Church initially said that it had only donated $2,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign, but in a filing with the California Secretary of State, the LDS Church admitted to spending $190,000 on travel expenses for high-rankimg members of the Church, food, audiovisual services, permits and most damningly, on their own staff and offices.

LDS is facing an ongoing investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) triggered by requests from Californians Against Hate, a grassroots group that has been instrumental in post-Prop 8. boycotts. Roman Porter, executive director of the FPPC said on Friday that “cases like these hinge over what had to be reported and when it had to be reported” and it appears the LDS Church’s late filing broke at least some laws. Previously, the church maintained that donations came solely from church members and that the Church did not need to file. The church has refused to comment on the recent filing.

So, what did the Mormon Church spend it’s money on? We’ll show you.

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Let’s start with the most damning evidence. In the filing with the Secretary of State. the church admits that it spent nearly $100,000 paying its own staff to run the Yes on 8 campaign, quite literally, from the Church basement. It dropped another $20,000 on “use of facilities and equipment.” If you’re looking for a smoking gun, this is it. The exact details of how this money was spent are not mentioned in the report, however, the money trail overturns the notion that the Church simply encouraged its members to donate their own time and energy to winning the California ballot-initiative. Instead, it’s now clear that the Church had a well-funded and well-staffed operation running out of Salt Lake. And while this gives gay rights activists a wonderful “I told you so” moment, it’s the fact that the Church failed to fess up to its involvement sooner that is likely to cause it the biggest headache. These expenses are the sort that could not have been unknown to the Church, and campaign finance laws are fairly strict about expenses being filed quickly. The Church is most likely making the information public now as a result of the FPPC inquiry and as a way of preventing a full-scale inquisition into its finances, but it’s hard to see why the FPPC should start believing them now.

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In addition, the Church spent thousands on “audiovisual production services.”  California Mormons reported that their Church leaders would show video presentations on how they had to vote for Proposition 8.

So is this all the money was spent on? Is the $189,000 reported in the latest filing the full extant of the Church’s financial involvement in Prop. 8? Consider this: When the investigation against the Church was announced, it revealed it had spent $20,000 in legal fees. Now that the investigation has ramped up, they admit to nearly $200k more.

Fred Karger, of Californians Against Hate, thinks the rabbit hole goes deeper, saying “As I read this report, it seems to raise more questions than it answers.  I think there is still a lot of missing parts of the report because we know they’ve been active since June.”

We agree. Looking through the report, the expenditures are dated solely from the fall of ’08, however, we know the Church had been involved with the Yes on 8 campaign from the get-go. In fact, as we’ve reported earlier, the Mormon Church had developed an elaborate ‘war plan’ that included bringing in Catholic leaders and other religious groups into the fight, and that the Church had plans to get involved in a California marriage battle going back to the late ’90s.

What we have seen with the Church of Latter Day Saints is a pattern of denial and lying. At this point, it’s clear that the Church used its own resources to win Proposition 8 and that it did so in an organized, structured and well-funded way. It’s also clear that the Church will continue to deny responsibility for it actions, which, increasingly, look to be illegal. In releasing these latest numbers, the Church is hoping to avoid censure for failing to file, however, the damage is done. It’s clear that the Church actively worked to cover up its involvement, denying that it had spent significant money to defeat Prop. 8, while knowing full well it had.

So, is $200,000 the final total on Mormon involvement? Should the FPPC launch a full-scale investigation into the Mormon Church’s books? And if the Church cheated, don’t California gay and lesbians deserve a do-over?