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Legal Issues Surrounding the Church and Proposition 8

Recently, a public figure has been quoted by several news publications saying that the LDS (Mormon) church was, in connection with the campaign for California’s Proposition 8, “convicted” of “13 counts of election fraud.” This claim is false. Responsible news outlets and commentators should stop repeating it.

It is well known that the LDS church supported the passage of Proposition 8 by asking members to contribute time and funds to the Yes on 8 campaign organization. The church’s only direct contribution as an institution was the time of a few church employees and the use of a few church media facilities. California law requires any party making such in-kind contributions to disclose them via reports to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

Compliance with election regulations can be complicated, usually requiring the advice of lawyers expert in the applicable regulations. The church received the necessary legal advice and sincerely endeavored to comply with all requirements. Toward the end of the campaign, the church failed to file daily forms regarding $37,000 worth of in-kind contributions, in violation of section 84203 of the CA Political Reform Act. (The entire Act, available here with the relevant section found on page 35, shows that compliance is not a simple matter.)

Those making the accusation use the terms “guilty” and “election fraud” either ignorantly or deceptively. “Guilty” implies a criminal charge, or at least a loss at trial on a civil matter. “Election fraud” is a specific act which must include intent to defraud and deliberate misleading of authorities. The California Fair Political Practices Commission, which handled the LDS church’s non-compliance, specifically states that a violation of the Political Reform Act cannot be election fraud. The FPPC never called the church’s actions “fraud” or anything close to it. Actual election fraud would have been handled in a completely different manner, including criminal charges and a trial or guilty plea.

To repeat the “election fraud” charge is to perpetuate a libelous falsehood. The California FPPC handled the church’s omitted forms in exactly the same way it does other such errors–through a “fast-track” regulatory compliance process which confirmed the mistake, provided for the church to file the omitted form and pay a fine, and closed the matter. Even a group with obviously good motives called “Californians for Clean Elections” was tripped up by the regulations and fined by the FPPC. Clearly one cannot assume that all violators must have acted knowingly and maliciously.

The full document showing the resolution of the church’s case is here. The church released an explanatory statement, including an invitation to seek further clarification from the church’s counsel, which can be found here. No responsible and credible news source should reprint these false charges. All of the resources needed to understand the circumstances are easily available.

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MDL.org is now MormonVoices.org

Mormon Defense League is now “Mormon Voices” and our new URL is www.mormonvoices.org. You have automatically been forwarded to our new website. Our mission is the same, but our emphasis will be to help members become involved in critical conversations online.