The Washington Public Disclosure Commission last week told local churches that they cannot collect money on behalf of groups aiming to defeat Washington’s marriage equality law at the ballot this November.
This comes after concerns were raised that Catholic churches in the state were preparing in early September to collect money in sealed envelopes in a so-called special collection on behalf of the political action group Preserve Marriage Washington. This would appear to break the so-called “bundling” prohibition present in Washington state law that bans third parties from collecting on behalf of a political group.
Preserve Marriage Washington’s website includes a “church tools” section, where it asks churches to collect “all envelopes from donors, put them in a larger mailing envelope, put your church name and return address on the mailing envelopes and send it via regular U.S. mail” to the campaign.
Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), said Thursday that she wasn’t aware of Preserve Marriage Washington’s notice on its website but would look into it.
She noted that no organization, like a church, can be an intermediary for a contribution.
Preserve Marriage Washington, a group that though it denies it, seems closely affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage, has been told that while it is able to go into churches and collect funds itself, churches cannot be collecting on the group’s behalf.
Anderson is further quoted as saying that, had state finance officials been consulted, this problem could have been avoided.
Anderson said letters were being sent Thursday to the Yakima Diocese and the Catholic conference, and she expects to speak with Preserve Washington soon as well.
“If someone from the campaign asked me ahead of time, ‘Can this happen?’ I would have said no,” Anderson said. “We think that they’re wrong and potentially giving people advice that could get them into trouble.”
Preserve Marriage Washington denies that it has broken any such rules and says it has remained in full compliance of state finance laws. It is unclear whether the churches themselves had misinterpreted the law or, in fact, were even aware of the ban.
Preserve Marriage Washington currently lags behind its opponents in fundraising, having amassed only $471,000 compared to the near $6.1 million raised by Washington United for Marriage who is campaigned to support the bill.
The pro-equality group was given a substantial boost by a donation from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, who together pledged $2.5 million to the cause. The group has said that around $5 million will be reserved for television advertising. It will need to spend every penny wisely, however, because marriage equality has yet to prevail when put to a public vote.
The November referendum, dubbed R-74, will ask voters whether they wish to “approve” or “reject” the state’s new marriage equality law that was signed by Governor Gregoire in February.
Image Credit: ColinBroug.