The Undue & Illegal Influence of the LDS Church On American Politics
LDS Church: Undue Influence
By Susan Jack
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) have been working very hard this past two years to keep their squeaky-clean image squeaky during their recent $20M PR campaign “I am a Mormon,” featuring members of different ethnicities, nationalities and marital statuses showing how diverse, fun-loving and normal Mormons are. Why the big push? Two words: Prop 8.
For those who don’t particularly care for LGBT civil rights, Prop 8 was a 2008 initiative to outlaw the then legal right for Gays and Lesbians to marry in the State of California. The LDS Church was intimately involved with the initiative, misrepresented their level of involvement, used their pulpit as a propaganda position, attempted to extort opposition supporters, was found out and fined by the State of California and ultimately doubled the amount of money raised to support Prop 8. After the passing of Prop 8, the LDS Church significantly dropped in favorability according to their own pollster Gary Laurence. “We’re upside down on our image” he told the Washington Post’s Carl Vick on May 29th, 2009.
Let’s revisit how the LDS Church played fast and loose with politics, Constitutionality and civil rights, shall we? On June 29th, 2008, an address called “Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families” from LDS President Thomas Monson was read out to all California Mormon congregations.
“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2 008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.
The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.
A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.
We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”
This in and of itself is not out of order; Churches will, as a matter of course, tell parishioners their particular views on the morality of a political initiative. The PAC for Prop 8 was also funded by the California Catholic Conference and several large Evangelical churches called Protect Marriage.
However, LDS leaders went further. They joined the “Yes on Prop 8” campaign executive committee, according to the Prop 8 ruling’s Findings of Fact.
They then also leaned hard on LDS rank and file members to give money to the campaign, although neither President Monson nor his Apostles (the equivalent of the Papal Curia) personally contributed a dime, according to the CA Secretary of State. In a story by Mark Schoof for the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 20th, 2008, “some Mormons who declined to donate said that their local church leaders had made highly charged appeals, such as saying that their souls would be in jeopardy if they didn’t give.”
Big money donors were given the personal touch on a conference call as well. “A high church official, known as a member of the Quorum of Seventy, Mr. Bolingbrooke, a former president and Chief Operating Officer of the Clorox Group, estimates that between 40-60 potential donors were on that call and he said it was suggested that they donate $25,000” Schoof wrote. Although it is unknown whether he was a participant of the conference call Bolingbrooke discussed, Alan C. Ashton, grandson of former LDS President David O. McKay, former BYU professor and founder of WordPerfect personally donated $1 million.
Churches are subject to IRS Tax Code for 503(c)(3) in order to attain and remain within their tax-free status. That includes bylaw 18.104.22.168.1 (02-23-1999) which states that “no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation… and does not participate in, or (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Actively stumping for Yes on Prop 8, having Church leaders join the Campaign Executive Committee, and ultimately raising $22 million for the campaign, certainly falls into this category.
The Prop 8 campaign, led by the LDS Church, even sank so low as to attempt extortion. In an LA Times October 24th , 2008, Opinion LA column, it was noted that after some “Yes on Prop 8” law signs were stolen the “Yes” Committee felt that act was reason enough to attempt to blackmail the opposition’s supporters.
“Strange to say, though, Prop. 8 directors somehow saw this as justification for sending letters to about three dozen companies that donated to the opposite campaign. OK, we’re all for free speech, and complaining about someone else’s closely held beliefs is fair game. But in this case, the Yes on 8 people demanded equal contributions to their campaign, or they would “out” the donor:
“Make a donation of a like amount to ProtectMarriage.com which will help us correct this error,” reads the letter. “Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. … The names of any companies and organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to ProtectMarriage.com but have given to Equality California will be published.”
The funny business wasn’t over when Prop 8 was voted in by California electorate on a thin margin or 52% for, 48% against. When Protect Marriage and “Yes on Prop 8” fundraising paperwork was initially filed by LDS leaders on November 5th, 2008, the LDS Church submitted the figure of $2,078 to the CA Secretary of State. That’s it. Nothing more than $2,078 and no cents- the cost of a business trip from LA to Des Moines- if you were staying in the Best Western rather than the Ritz-Carlton. Nine days later, Fred Karger, a gay rights activist, filed a complaint with the CA Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) that the LDS Church had contributed more in-kind contributions to “Yes to Prop 8.”
The LDS Church reacted immediately, sending out an indignant spokesperson Scott Trotter who stridently stated that his Church “has fully complied with the reporting requirements of the California Political Reform Act, and that claims that the Church has violated the Act and failed to report political expenditures are false.” Don Eaton, spokesperson for the Oakland, CA LDS Temple emphasized this view, saying “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day States put zero money into this,” already diverging from what the leadership at the LDS Church had submitted.
A full investigation was announced by the FPPC one week later on November 21st, 2008. Meanwhile, everyday Mormons took to the blogosphere, outraged that anyone should question the leadership of the LDS Church, making claims of religious bigotry, intolerance and anti-Mormon fervor.
Except on November 30th, 2008, the LDS Church amended the year-end filing for the “Yes on Prop 8”/Protect Marriage campaign to $190,000, including $92,849 for Church employee time and $20,575 for use of facilities, contradicting all prior claims of the Church’s transparency. This wasn’t oversight- it was a blatant attempt to commit fraud. The California Ethics Commission agreed, fining the LDS Church a paltry $5,539 on July 16th, 2010 after a long investigation to campaign contributions.
Blog “Classically Liberal” from a February 1st, 2009 post explains the situation well. “The problem was that there was plenty of evidence that the $2,078 figure was a lie. It was clear that the Mormon Church had spent much, much more than that and was illegally hiding those donations. It was proven that the church had operated telephone banks to get Prop 8 volunteers recruited from Mormon ranks. It was also known that a satellite link up was used to broadcast a top level Mormon speaking to hundreds of Mormons churches, urging their members to volunteer for Prop 8 and to contribute money. All these “in kind” donations were left off the reports of what the Mormon Church had spent in the campaign.”
So what does all this have to do with the election? Mormons make up only 2% of the American citizenry- six million of their 14 million members live in the United States. Yet LDS Church President Thomas Monson saw fit to influence the civil rights legislation of California, breaking plenty of laws along the way, attempting to cover up the significant man hours, money and malevolence of the Church while cloaking himself and his Church in the protections of the Constitution.
We as a people cannot be swayed by a slick PR campaign- Americans must remember, regardless of where we stand on LGBT rights, that a Church, which the Constitution guarantees remains separate from the State, succeed in altering the law of the land. And that’s not right.
Fred Karger has noted in a Huffington Post entry, “there have been reports that the Mormon Church has lost tens of thousands of members in California and other Western states over Prop 8, and that many highly educated Mormons have resigned from the Church. I have also heard that Mormon Church buildings are closing. This hasn’t happened since the 1970′s, when they led the national opposition to another social justice issue, the Equal Rights Amendment.”
Even with a dip in membership, the Mormons effectively blocked ERA in the 1970s and pushed through Prop 8 in 2008, flexing their political will. There is no reason to expect LDS Church won’t attempt to unduly influence the American political landscape again. The Mormons are, after all, are at least 2 for 2…