By Jennifer Dobner Associated Press

Karger says he believes there has been a ‘massive cover-up’ that he has dubbed ‘Mormongate’

SALT LAKE CITY — The head of a gay rights group on Wednesday, Feb. 11 said he plans to file a second campaign finance complaint about the Mormon church’s activities in the November ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California.

Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, accused The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of deliberately covering up its financial role in backing Proposition 8 by failing to file timely campaign finance reports as required by California law. Karger said it’s possible the church spent millions more than it actually reported.

"I’m calling this Mormongate," Karger said at a news conference. "I think there’s been a massive cover-up."

Karger’s specific concerns include what he believes are expenses that did not show up in campaign finance reports. He wants to know if the church spent money on phone banks in Utah and Idaho, precinct walks, buses and a California legal firm.

Mike Otterson, director of public affairs for the church, dismissed Karger’s allegations and said there are no additional church contributions to report.

"Today’s press conference should be seen for what it is — a publicity stunt as part of a campaign to marginalize and intimidate those who voted to support traditional marriage … ," Otterson said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Mr. Karger is entitled to his opinion. He is not entitled to make up facts."

Karger filed an initial complaint about the church with the California Fair Political Practices Commission in November. An investigation is under way.

The Mormon church was part of a coalition of churches and other conservative groups that backed the "Yes on 8" campaign to overturn a California Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. On June 29, church President Thomas S. Monson in a letter to California members asked them to give their time and money to pass Proposition 8. Church members were among the most vigorous individual donors and volunteers to the campaign.

Proposition 8 passed Nov. 4 with 52 percent of the vote.

A Jan. 30 report shows the institutional church gave $189,903.58 in non-monetary contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign.

The expenses included $97,000 for staff time and $21,000 for the use of church buildings and equipment. Most of the rest went for travel expenses, including airline tickets, hotels and meals.

The church reported no cash donations.

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said last week that the value of the church’s in-kind contributions is less than one-half of 1 percent of the $40.8 million raised by the campaign.

In response to the allegation that it tried to hide its support for Proposition 8, the church posted on its Web site a list of seven campaign finance reports dating back to last summer.

According to the church, all filings went to the California secretary of state; the Department of Elections for the City and County of San Francisco; and the registrar-recorder for Los Angeles.

Karger disputes the data and called on the public to share any pertinent information about the church’s activities related to Proposition 8. He said he’s set up a Web site and a toll-free telephone number to receive information.

Karger said gay marriage is accepted by many as a civil right, and he hopes that in time the church will change its position.

"They’re based on family and loving and giving. … They’re that kind of an organization, and I’m hopeful that they too will come around," he said.

Latter-day Saints believe traditional marriage is ordained by God. Gay members are welcome in church, but must remain celibate to hold church callings. Some gays have been excommunicated for acting on what the church calls same-sex attraction.

Also Wednesday, Karger called for a boycott of car dealerships in Utah, California, Iowa and Texas owned by the Utah-based Ken Garff Automotive Group. Katherine Garff made an individual contribution of $100,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign, Karger said.

Garff’s son, John Garff, said the contribution was a personal decision made by his mother, and not a contribution from the company, which is politically neutral.

John Garff said the company has gay and lesbian employees, has a zero tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination in the workplace and offers a benefits package that is favorable to those in same-sex partnerships. In Utah, the automotive group is also a longtime contributor to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy and education organization.

Karger said he was unaware of the Garff company policies and welcomed an invitation from John Garff to meet and talk.

Three other companies have been targeted by Karger’s group for boycotts because of contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign.

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