Californiaâ€™s attorney general and election watchdogs are fighting back against a federal lawsuit seeking to bar disclosure of late donors to the stateâ€™s same-sex marriage ban.
Attorney General Jerry Brown, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and the Fair Political Practices Commission jointly filed arguments this week opposing the suit by the Proposition 8 campaign.
Ross Johnson, FPPC chairman, said Friday that the suit is â€œout to destroy campaign finance disclosure by a death-of-a-thousand cuts. I donâ€™t intend to let that happen on my watch.â€
U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. is set to hear oral arguments Thursday.
The suit seeks a court order exempting Proposition 8 committees from identifying people who donated shortly before or after the Nov. 4 election.
Previous contributors already have been named.
Harassment cited as suit’s basis
Californiaâ€™s Political Reform Act, approved by voters in 1974, requires disclosure of the name, occupation and employer of anyone contributing $100 or more to campaigns.
The suit challenges the constitutionality of the disclosure requirement, claiming donors to Proposition 8 have been ravaged by e-mails, phone calls and postcards â€” even death threats.
Ron Prentice, chairman of Yes on 8, contends that hundreds of people have alleged harassment, intimidation or threats.
Attorneys for Proposition 8 assert that First Amendment rights to be free from retaliation outweigh the stateâ€™s interest in disclosure.
State says no reason for nondisclosure
Brown, Bowen and the FPPC counter that disclosure requirements assist the state in detecting efforts to hide the identities of large donors and illegal spending of political funds for personal use.
â€œPolitical democracy demands open debate, including prompt disclosure of the identities of campaign donors,â€ Brown said in a written statement.
Victims of harassment should sue or file criminal charges â€” not strip election records to â€œcarve out a special privilege of anonymity for themselves alone,â€ he said.
Noting that Proposition 8 attracted 36,000 contributions totaling $30 million, the state contends no clear evidence exists that the measure was hurt by fear of reprisal.
That argument misses the point, attorney James Bopp Jr. said, because harassment occurred only after donors sent their money.
Bopp said the state has no compelling reason to disclose donations as low as $100.
â€œSurely, thereâ€™s no one in the state who would be influenced to vote for or against an initiative because Joe Blow gave $100,â€ he said.
Since balloting for Proposition 8 is over, there is no way that keeping names confidential could affect the outcome, Bopp added.
The suit would not bar investigations of misspending because the state could obtain donorsâ€™ names by auditing campaign committees, without making them public, he said.
If successful, the suit would apply only to Yes on 8 committees.
Besides barring disclosure of late donors, it would ban the public from viewing names previously released.
By Jim Sanders / McClatchy Tribune