Mormon Church agrees to pay small fine for mistake that led to late report of contributions in Prop. 8 campaign

Published: Wednesday, June 9 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Acknowledging tardy reporting of in-kind campaign contributions in the final weeks before the November 2008 passage of California's Proposition 8, the LDS Church has agreed with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to pay a minor $5,000 fine.

As the state agency for interpreting and enforcing California's campaign finance rules, the FPPC identified 13 instances of "nonmonetary late contributions made and not timely reported" — or the church failing to file daily reports detailing $36,928 in in-kind contributions, including the cost of staff time spent by church employees to help the "Yes on 8" committee.

The original complaint filed against the LDS Church was that it failed to report numerous contributions totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"All institutional contributions made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the ProtectMarriage Coalition were reported to the appropriate authorities in California," said Scott Trotter, LDS Church spokesman.

"In the last two weeks leading up to the election, the Church mistakenly overlooked the daily reporting requirement and instead reported those contributions together in a later filing."

The FPPC could have imposed a fine of up to $5,000 for each violation as it considered the severity of the infractions, records of prior violations and the presence or absence of an intent to deceive the public.

The commission used a streamlined enforcement process — likened by some to a "traffic-ticket program" — and fined the LDS Church 15 percent of the value of each late-reported contribution — for a mutually agreed-upon total of $5,539.

The recommended action and fine will go before the FPPC's five commissioners Thursday in Sacramento, Calif., for final approval.

In its recommendation, the commission acknowledged the contributions were reported on a post-election semi-annual campaign statement that was filed on time.

Saying the LDS Church appreciated the commission's fairness and consideration in addressing the oversight, Trotter added: "Claims that the church misrepresented its contributions to the ProtectMarriage Coalition are false."

Such claims would include Human Rights Campaign and HRC president Joe Solmonese, who quickly sent out press releases trumpeting the FPPC fine as a pattern of blatant disregard by the church for California election laws as well as examples of "late contributions" and purposeful violations.

California's Prop 8 ballot measure changed the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, eliminating same-sex marriages.

Last year, the LDS Church said its total contributions to "Yes on 8" tallied $189,903.58 — all nonmonetary, in-kind contributions such as video production from its studios, church employee time and airfare and lodging costs for church leaders traveling to California for campaign efforts.

In all, those contributions totaled less than 1 percent of the total of $43.3 million raised by Proposition 8 proponents. Opponents raised $39.9 million.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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