A federal judge on Thursday denied a request to keep the names of late donors to the Proposition 8 campaign undisclosed, a move that backers of the California same-sex marriage ban say puts more donors at risk of harassment or reprisals.
Early Proposition 8 donors, whose names have already been disclosed on the secretary of state's website, have been harassed and some have received death threats, according to officials of the Yes on 8 campaign. Harassing e-mails, phone calls and post cards received by contributors to the California marriage amendment include "Burn in hell" and "If I had a gun I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter."
In seeking protection for late donors, ProtectMarriage.com and the National Organization for Marriage California had sought a preliminary injunction to hide the identities of donors who contributed $100 to $999 in the last two weeks before the election last November.
But after a one-hour hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. denied the request, clearing the way for the names of some 1,600 people to be made public on Monday.
England said the public has the right to know who's financing state ballot measures. He observed that often times campaign committees have misleading names and that full disclosure of donors is the only way to inform the public of the campaign's intent.
"The court finds that the state is not facilitating retaliation by compelling disclosure," he said.
ProtectMarriage.com and NOM had filed suit in early January, challenging the 1974 Political Reform Act, which requires the state to reveal the name and employer of people who give $100 or more to campaigns. The suit also challenged the Act's requirement that committees report contributors who give $100 or more because the threshold is not indexed to inflation.
In court filings, the groups claimed there is a reasonable probability that the disclosure law will result in threats, harassment, and reprisals, similar to those already suffered by some supporters of Proposition 8, which California voters approved in November and which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gay marriage.
Attorneys on behalf of ProtectMarriage.com and NOM said they would not seek to block the next campaign filing, but would take their challenge against the state's disclosure law to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
"We are disappointed that we did not receive the preliminary injunction," said Yes on 8 campaign manager Frank Schubert in a statement. "But this fight is really about how donors to a future campaign will be treated. We are committed to ensuring that supporters of traditional marriage can do so without fear of intimidation and harassment."
Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, believes there is "systematic effort" to seek out Proposition 8 donors and harass them.
The latest example of published names being used to expose Proposition 8 donors is a website (www.eightmaps.com), set up by opponents of the same-sex marriage ban, that shows a home or office location of donors on Google Maps.
"The message of this harassment is unmistakable - 'support traditional marriage and we will find you,'" said Prentice.
The suit also noted groups such as Californians Against Hate that exist for the primary purpose of identifying and taking action against supporters of Proposition 8.
England dismissed many of the reported harassment incidents as legal activities such as boycotting and picketing. He said that alleged death threats could be reported to law enforcement.
Schubert told the Associated Press that he predicted the traditional marriage groups would have a better chance of showing that they deserved an exemption from disclosure laws when they are able to bring in more evidence of harassment during a full trial of their lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the main legal battle concerning Proposition 8 is yet to be heard by the California Supreme Court. Final briefs in the challenge over the validity of Proposition 8 were filed this week and the case could be argued before Justices as early as the first week in March.