Prop. 8 backers lose campaign-disclosure case

Friday, October 21, 2011

Editor’s note: On Oct. 24, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the district court’s Oct. 20 ruling. The 9th Circuit said it would hear arguments in the case in early December.

SAN FRANCISCO — Supporters of the 2008 ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriages in California lost their effort Thursday to block their past and future campaign-finance records from public view because of alleged harassment of their donors.

A federal judge in Sacramento ruled against ProtectMarriage.com and the National Organization for Marriage in a nearly three-year-old lawsuit, saying the two groups failed to prove they should be exempted from the state’s campaign-disclosure laws.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. ruled from the bench after a brief hearing and plans to issue a written opinion later, San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Mollie Lee said.

“The winners here are really the voters of California,” Lee said. “The First Amendment interest that the judge upheld in his ruling is the interest in having a robust democracy, an informed electorate and vigorous debate.”

ProtectMarriage.com is a coalition of religious conservative groups that sponsored and campaigned for the state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8, which ultimately was approved by 52% of California voters and has been subject to continuing court challenges by same-sex marriage supporters. The National Organization for Marriage solicited donations that were used to qualify the measure for the November 2008 voters.

The two groups, which between them raised the lion’s share of the $43.3 million spent in support of Proposition 8, claimed their donors were targeted for boycotts, hate mail and threats after their names appeared on the Secretary of State’s website as part of required campaign-finance reports and filed a lawsuit in January 2009 to have them removed.

England refused at that time to grant an emergency injunction that would have taken the information down temporarily, saying campaign-disclosure laws are designed to protect the public and are especially important during expensive initiative campaigns.

The suit also asked the court to relieve the two groups and “all similarly situated persons” from having to list any donors who gave $100 or more for any future campaigns. England denied that request yesterday as well.

James Bopp Jr., a national campaign-finance expert whose law firm represented the groups, did not respond to an email from the Associated Press seeking comment.

The California decision mirrors a ruling from a federal judge in Washington state who earlier this week ordered the release of signature petitions that forced a vote on a 2009 domestic-partnership law, saying supporters had failed to demonstrate that making the names of signers public would put anyone in danger.

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