Mormon Inquiry

The LDS Newsroom released a statement correcting media misstatements regarding the recent filing of its final report of financial assistance to the Yes on 8 campaign.

On Friday, 30 January, the Church filed the final report of its contributions (all of which were non-monetary) to the coalition. The report, submitted in advance of the 31 January deadline, details in-kind donations totaling $189,903.58.

The value of the Church’s in-kind (non-monetary) contribution is less than one half of one percent of the total funds (approximately $40 million) raised for the “Yes on 8” campaign. The Church did not make any cash contribution.

The statement further claims that the LDS Church “has been filing required contribution reports throughout the campaign” and that it believes it has “complied with California law.”

And that’s the point the media seems to be missing. The LDS Church and its members have a right to voice their opinion and make financial contributions, whether in cash or in kind. The law requires certain disclosures to be made; the LDS Church has apprently complied with those requirements. Plenty of other organizations have done the same. An LA Times article notes that Focus on the Family donated $657,000 and the California Democratic Central Committee donated $350,000. So what’s wrong with the LDS donations?

For an example of how to misstate information, see this SF Chronicle story. The first sentence reads: “Mormon church officials, facing an ongoing investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Friday reported nearly $190,000 in previously unlisted assistance to the successful campaign for Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.” That misleads readers on at least two counts, first suggesting the filing was made in response to the FPPC investigation rather than the filing due date of January 31, and second suggesting that some information in the latest report was improperly omitted from earlier reports, which the LDS statement denies was the case.

Readers will notice how careful the LDS statement is to make the point that no direct cash contributions were made by the LDS Church. I think this reflects a desire by LDS leaders to avoid having Mormons who make financial contributions to the LDS Church think their cash donations are simply being redirected to support a political campaign. LDS leaders apparently prefer to have individual Mormons make their own direct financial contributions to political campaigns (and I’ll note that some individual Mormons undoubtedly contributed to the No on 8 side of the campaign). This makes sense in terms of empowering individual Mormons to choose where their political contributions go, although from a financial perspective there isn’t really any difference between cash contributed directly to the Yes on 8 campaign and cash spent to pay the salaries and travel costs of LDS employees assisting the campaign. It is still an expenditure of resources that comes from the financial contributions of individual Mormons.

But how the LDS Church contributes to a campaign, if at all, is a decision for LDS leaders to make — there is nothing illegal or improper about the resources the Church expended to support Prop 8. And the policy of letting individual Mormons make direct cash contributions voluntarily, on their own initiative, to whichever side of the issue they favor, seems hard to criticize.

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