U.S. Judge Refuses to Block Disclosure of Gay Ban Donors

By Karen Gullo and David Watts Barton, Bloomberg, January 29, 2009

Backers of California’s gay marriage ban lost a bid to keep some of their donors’ names secret after a judge said campaign-finance disclosure laws outweigh concerns that supporters may be harassed.
U.S. District Judge Morrison England in Sacramento, California, today denied a request for an injunction shielding groups that backed a successful anti-gay marriage ballot initiative from having to file a Jan. 31 report disclosing the names of people who donated from $100 to $1,000 later in the campaign.
ProtectMarriage.com, a Sacramento group that backed Proposition 8, a November ballot measure that repealed the right of same-sex couples to marry in California, said donors whose names have already been disclosed in campaign finance reports have been targeted with threatening phone calls and e-mails, vandalism and boycotts.
The state’s interest in providing full disclosure about contributors under campaign-finance laws “trumps the issue of the parties’ to have their names withheld from public disclosure,” England said at a hearing today in Sacramento.
The groups face a Jan. 31 deadline to file a semi-annual report on donors and other information with the state. Donor names can be accessed on the California Secretary of State Web site.
“We’re disappointed, and we’re concerned that 1,600 people will be exposed on Monday,” Scott Bieniek, an attorney for ProtectMarriage.com, after the hearing.
Californians amended their constitution Nov. 4 to ban gay weddings, overturning a May 15 ruling by the state’s highest court that legalized same-sex nuptials. Fifty-two percent of voters supported Proposition 8, and 47 percent opposed it.
The measure angered supporters of gay marriage in California, home to at least 92,000 same-sex couples, more than any other U.S. state, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. San Francisco and civil-rights groups have sued to overturn Proposition 8. The California Supreme Court may hear arguments in the case in March.
ProtectMarriage.com and the National Organization for Marriage California, which sponsored the proposition, sued California’s Secretary of State and Fair Political Practices Commission alleging the state’s campaign-finance laws violate free speech rights of donors because they would be subject to harassment if their names are disclosed.
Today’s ruling was “clearly a victory for the people of California for disclosure of campaign financing,” said Roman Porter, executive director of the commission, after the hearing.
The case is ProtectMarriage.com-Yes on 8 v. Debra Bowen, 09-58, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).