The group seeking to overturn Washington’s gay marriage law has been advising churches to take special collections and forward them to the campaign, which the state’s campaign finance watchdog said earlier this week is not allowed under state law.
Preserve Marriage Washington’s website includes a “church tools” section, where it asks churches to collect “all envelopes from donors, put them in a larger mailing envelope, put your church name and return address on the mailing envelopes and send it via regular U.S. mail” to the campaign.
Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, said Thursday that she wasn’t aware of Preserve Washington’s notice on its website but would look into it.
She noted that no organization, like a church, can be an intermediary for a contribution. While the church can make a call for a special collection and hand out envelopes to parishioners, either a member of Preserve Washington has to be on hand to collect them, or parishioners must send them in individually, she said.
Anderson said the prohibition on so-called “bundling” stems from Initiative 134, which voters passed in 1992 to regulate political contributions and campaign spending.
Christopher Plante, deputy campaign manager for Preserve Marriage, said he was confident that the campaign’s fundraising process was “completely compliant with the PDC’s rules.”
“The PDC has in no way communicated with the Catholic church, or with Preserve Marriage Washington,” he said. “We are confident that our legally reviewed materials comply with all of Washington state’s campaign finance requirements.”
He noted that the campaign has thousands of volunteers across the state, so it would have no problem collecting the donations if that was what was ultimately required.
Preserve Marriage pushed to get Referendum 74 on the November ballot. It asks voters to either approve or reject the law passed earlier this year that allows same-sex marriage in the state. That law is on hold pending the vote.
Earlier this week, the PDC said it would be reaching out to the Yakima Diocese and the Washington state Catholic Conference after the bishop in Yakima announced last week that there would be a special collection for Preserve Marriage Washington.
Anderson said letters were being sent Thursday to the Yakima Diocese and the Catholic conference, and she expects to speak with Preserve Washington soon as well.
“If someone from the campaign asked me ahead of time, ‘Can this happen?’ I would have said no,” Anderson said. “We think that they’re wrong and potentially giving people advice that could get them into trouble.”
Zach Silk, a spokesman for Washington United for Marriage, which supports the gay marriage law, said “everyone ought to play by the rules.”
“We’ll be watching,” he said. “We just want them to play fair.”
Preserve Marriage Washington has raised about $471,000 so far in its campaign, compared with the nearly $6.1 million raised by Washington United for Marriage.
Washington United for Marriage announced Monday that the group has reserved $5 million for television advertising starting sometime after Labor Day.