In a classic Friday night news dump, the Mormon Church released a report late yesterday that reveals at least $190,000 in previously unreported expenditures in the Proposition 8 campaign to repeal gays’ right to marry in California. Failure to disclose campaign expenses is illegal, and these expenditures were not reported in an earlier filing.
The report was released in response to a complaint filed in November by Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate. In the sworn complaint, Karger contended that “the Mormon Church organized phone banks from Utah and Idaho, sent direct mail to voters, transported people to California over several weekends, used the LDS NewsRoom to send out news releases to promote their activities, walked precincts, ran a speakers bureau, distributed thousands of lawn signs and other campaign material, organized a ‘surge to election day,’ had church leaders travel to California, set up very elaborate web sites, produced at least nine commercials and four other video broadcasts and conducted at least two satellite simulcasts over five Western states.”
Karger’s complaint underscored that these activities were targeted, not at church members, but at the general public, which classifies the communications as political propaganda. Churches risk losing their nonprofit status if they engage in partisan politicking.
The document filed late on Friday appeared to bolster Karger’s allegations:
The report … listed a variety of California travel expenses for high-ranking members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and included $20,575 for use of facilities and equipment at the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters and a $96,849 charge for “compensated staff time” for church employees who worked on matters pertaining to Prop 8.
“This is exactly what we were talking about when we filed the suit,” said [Karger].
“They said they reported all their travel … now, when there is a [complaint filed] they disclose 25 Southwest tickets just in October,” Karger said, in a Los Angeles Times report. “They were required to report this,” he said.
Church spokesmen have not yet responded to reporters’ questions about the report, which has prompted speculation that the church has something to hide.
Mormon leaders in Utah and elsewhere have been accused of politicking during the campaign when they urged church members to contribute to the fight to strip the right to marry from California gays. Judging by the results, the accusations appear to be correct. At their leaders’ behest, Mormon contributions made up about half Prop 8’s budget of $40 million.
Here’s the pertinent section (PDF) of the IRS law regulating non-profit corporations:
In general, no organization, including a church, may qualify for IRC section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). An IRC section 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.
If the church were to lose its 501(c)(3) status, it would have to start paying taxes on holdings said to be worth at least $13 billion, including the world’s largest beef ranch, near Orlando, Fla., and Bonneville International, a wholly owned radio network with stations that broadcast mainstream rock ‘n roll, country music and right-wing talk radio in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and other markets.