Anti-gay group’s campaign contributions questioned

Equality California accuses opponents of gay history law of hiding campaign donations

LISA LEFF | Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s largest gay rights group on Monday, Oct. 3 accused the backers of a ballot measure seeking to repeal a law requiring gay history to be taught in public schools of deliberately hiding the size and source of campaign contributions.

Two conservative groups behind the StopSB-48 campaign “may have engaged in an unlawful scheme” to violate campaign reporting rules, Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia said in a complaint filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Palencia’s group accuses Capitol Resource Institute and Pacific Justice Institute, the organizations that have taken the lead on undoing the first-of its kind law, of raising and spending money to qualify the repeal referendum for the June 2012 ballot without registering as campaign committees.

Under California’s strict campaign finance laws, political entities that receive more than $1,000 in contributions are required to register with the secretary of state, said Cary Davidson, an election law lawyer on the Equality California board.

“It is critical that backers of any initiative play by the rules, so it is particularly important when that initiative could have such a critical effect on the lives of Californians,” Palencia told reporters during a conference call.

Capitol Resource Institute Executive Director Karen England said her organization’s work on the repeal effort does not require it to register with the secretary of state. She says a new campaign committee, Stop SB-48, has been formed to report fundraising activity, but it has not received any donations of $5,000 or more that would trigger such a mandatory filing.

England also said that while she has been heavily involved in the campaign, it has been as a volunteer. The official Stop SB-48 campaign is leasing office space and equipment from her organization, but for a fee and not as a donation, she said.

Pacific Justice Institute Brad Dacus similarly ridiculed Equality California’s complaint as “a ridiculous but desperate attempt to try to hinder our efforts to get this on the ballot.”

“Our attorneys have been very, very careful to abide by all the requirements,” Dacus said. “We know election law. We’ve been around for 14 years, and we would never risk throwing that away.”

—  John Wright

Calif. gay history referendum faces uphill battle

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — At churches, shopping centers, schools, and local tea party meetings in California, fired-up volunteers have started gathering signatures for a ballot referendum that would repeal the nation’s first law requiring public schools to include prominent gay people and gay rights’ milestones in school lessons.

Organizers of the Stop SB48 campaign — Senate Bill 48 was the law approved by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July — are telling would-be voters the new mandate would inappropriately expose young children to sex, infringe on parental rights and silence religion-based criticisms of homosexuality. Those are talking points successfully used by proponents of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California.

But so far, Mormon and Catholic church leaders and conservative groups who spearheaded the Proposition 8 campaign have not joined the effort to qualify the gay history referendum for the June 2012 ballot, leaving less-experienced Christian conservatives to lead the charge without the organizational prowess and funding to hire paid signature gatherers.

Political operatives say they can’t recall any citizens’ initiative that made the state ballot without professional petition circulators in almost three decades.

“If someone wrote a million-dollar check, we would be guaranteed to get this on the ballot,” said Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus, whose legal aid firm wrote the proposed measure and is co-sponsoring the signature-gathering effort. “That’s not the case at this point… We are counting on people in churches and communities and families making the extra effort to get it done.”

Supporters have until Oct. 12 to collect 504,760 signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the ballot. Conventional wisdom among political consultants is that it will be difficult to meet the requirement with such a short window and only volunteers.

Sacramento political consultant Wayne Johnson, whose firm has worked on more than a dozen ballot initiative campaigns, said that with the same-sex marriage ban tied up in the courts, a presidential election on the horizon and many Christian parents with children in private schools, conservative groups with the most cash and experience may sit out this fight.

“We are in a different environment and a different economy,” Johnson said. “How much of your resources and energy can be devoted to preserving the status quo?”

Still, no one is ready to write off the repeal attempt, especially if a donor steps up in the next few weeks to fund professional petitioners. If ever there was a measure that could galvanize the electorate, it’s one dealing with gay rights and school children.

“On an issue like this one, sometimes an abundance of passion, on both sides, can make up for a lack of money,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former GOP campaign spokesman. “A well-organized and very emotionally committed grassroots base may be able to get this on the ballot even without significant funding.”

The new law takes effect Jan.1 but state education officials say it is unlikely to be fully implemented until at least the 2015-16 school year. It adds lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, as well as European Americans and people with disabilities to the lengthy list of social and ethnic groups whose “roles and contributions” California public schools must include in California and U.S. history lessons and teaching materials such as textbooks.

The law also prohibits any instructional materials that “reflect adversely” on gays or particular religions. Because of the state’s budget straits, the California Department of Education’s timeline for adopting new textbooks has been pushed back until 2015. The work of revising the history and social studies curriculum framework that determines what students learn and at what grades has been suspended until further notice.

Fears that kindergartners will be hearing about prominent gays in history are misplaced, said Sherry Skelly Griffith, governmental relations specialist for the Association of California School Administrators.

Currently, California students do not receive any significant social studies until they study state history in fourth grade. They begin learning about U.S. history in eighth grade, but do not study 20th Century social movements, the most logical place for gay history to receive a serious treatment, until they are juniors in high school.

Educators who devise the curriculum are unlikely to include the sexual orientation of historical figures unless it is relevant, Griffith said.

“Frankly, there isn’t time to get into people’s personal lives…” she said. “Your textbook needs to address broad-brush themes.”

The group organizing the petition drive is the Capitol Resource Institute, a nonprofit organization that has fought gay rights bills, including measures that recognized slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk’s birthday. Three years ago, the institute unsuccessfully attempted to qualify a referendum that would have overturned a law prohibiting discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation.

Founded in 1987 as an anti-abortion lobbying group by two wealthy Christian businessmen from Orange County, former California Senate Republican leader Rob Hurtt and banking heir Howard Ahmanson Jr., the group has also championed a bill that would have made it more difficult to obtain a divorce in California and opposed others that would have made spanking a crime and stiffened penalties for hate crimes

Its annual income in 2009, the last year for which information was available, was a little over $282,000.

Karen England, the institute’s executive director, said that along with the Pacific Justice Institute, several other staunchly conservative groups with long histories of activism have endorsed the repeal and are rallying their members. England said she is convinced that the group will succeed. “We are going to do what it takes to ensure victory to get the referendum on the ballot,” she said.

Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights group, has launched a web site to counteract the information being put out by the campaign.

Executive Director Roland Palencia said his group assumes the measure will be on the ballot, given the organizational muscle that evangelical churches demonstrated during the Proposition 8 campaign. Gay rights activists will try to portray the backers of the repeal as extremists who are out of step with most Californians.

“If it qualifies … we will put up a fight.” he said.

—  John Wright

California Supreme Court refuses to force Gov. Schwarzenegger to appeal Prop 8 decision

Ruling means case may hinge on whether Yes on 8 has standing

Lisa Keen  | Keen News Service

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday night, Sept. 8 denied a petition from a conservative group seeking to force California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to participate in an appeal of the Proposition 8 case.

The full court issued its decision with a simple two-sentence declaration, denying a petition from the Pacific Justice Institute. The denial came just hours after Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Jerry Brown submitted letters to the court, explaining that they were not participating in the appeal of Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

In a letter from his attorney, Gov. Schwarzenegger indicated what had been uncertain before — that he had decided not to appeal the Proposition 8 court decision to the 9th Circuit.

The definitive statement from Schwarzenegger — coupled with the state supreme court’s refusal to require state participation in the appeal — means the ability of Proposition 8 proponents to appeal may depend entirely on the legal standing of the Yes on 8 coalition. (There is one remaining possibility: the County Board of Supervisors of Imperial County, California, has asked to serve as an intervenor in the appeal. Because the county issues marriage licenses, it may be able to demonstrate a necessary element of standing — that it is impacted by the district court decision.)

Gov. Schwarzenegger had until Sept. 11 to make a decision and, though his position on marriage equality for gay couples has been changing, his most recent statements seemed to indicate he would not direct the state’s attorney general to appeal the decision from the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

That decision, issued Aug. 4 by Judge Vaughn Walker, found Proposition 8 violates the federal constitutional guarantee to equal protection. The Yes on 8 coalition filed its appeal, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit has said it will hear the appeal during the first week of December, along with arguments concerning whether the Yes on 8 coalition has standing to appeal.

Hoping to shore up the legitimacy of that appeal, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal group, filed an appeal — Beckley v. Schwarzenegger — to the California Supreme Court this week, asking justices to force the governor to instruct the attorney general to join the appeal in the 9th Circuit.

The state supreme court ordered the governor and attorney general to weigh in on this matter Wednesday. And, in a five-page letter Sept. 8, Counsel for the Governor Andrew Stroud told the court, “Although Beckley may disagree with the Governor’s decision not to file a notice of appeal [in the Proposition 8 case in federal court], it was the Governor’s decision to make.”

A letter from Attorney General Jerry Brown’s deputy, Tamar Pachter, reiterated that Brown has long opposed Proposition 8 as unconstitutional and that Brown’s decision not to appeal the federal court decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger “is an ordinary and sound exercise of the discretion secured by law to his office.”

Pachter says the Pacific Justice Institute’s petition is based on its “fears that the the federal courts will rule that [Yes on 8 proponents] lack standing to pursue their appeal …”

“But the Attorney General has no duty to appeal at all, let alone to file an appeal he has determined is legally unjustified, soley to manufacture federal appellate standing in private parties,” wrote Pachter.

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

Court won’t force Calif. officials to defend Prop 8

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California court has refused to order Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal a ruling that overturned the state’s gay marriage ban.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday, Sept. 1 denied a conservative legal group’s request to force the officials to defend voter-approved Proposition 8.

Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland did not explain why the appeals court turned down the request filed two days earlier by the Pacific Justice Institute.

The institute now plans to take the matter to the California Supreme Court, Chief Counsel Kevin Snider said Thursday.

“We are disappointed that the appellate court showed indecisiveness in trying to prevent a constitutional crisis,” Snider said. “They didn’t want to deal with it.”

The institute maintains the attorney general and governor have the duty to uphold all laws, including those passed by voters.

Brown has said he cannot defend Proposition 8 because he thinks it is unconstitutional; Schwarzenegger has chosen to remain neutral.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 last month as a violation of gay Californians’ civil rights.

The measure approved by 52 percent of California voters in November 2008 amended the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex unions five months after the state Supreme Court legalized them.

The state has until Sept. 11 to challenge Walker’s ruling. Both Brown and Schwarzenegger have said they don’t plan an appeal.

The coalition of conservative and religious groups that sponsored the ban has appealed the ruling by Walker. But doubts have been raised about whether its members have authority to do so because as ordinary citizens they are not responsible for enforcing marriage laws.

Twenty-seven members of the California Assembly sent Schwarzenegger a letter this week urging the governor to bring an appeal if Brown will not.

—  John Wright