Marriage group grapples with Wash. campaign rules

OLYMPIA — The group seeking to overturn Washington state’s gay marriage law has changed its website instructions to churches that want to raise money for the effort, but state campaign finance officials said Tuesday that the language is still not in compliance with state law.

Preserve Marriage Washington pushed to get Referendum 74 on the November ballot. R-74 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 a November vote.

The fact that churches can call for or allow special collections on behalf of a campaign is not in question. The means in which the donations from these collections can be forwarded on to the campaign is where state election laws kick in.

Because of so-called anti-bundling restrictions that stem from a voter-approved initiative that regulates political contributions and campaign spending, churches can hand out envelopes at Mass but they can’t collect them and send them in to the campaign. Either a member of Preserve Washington has to be on hand to collect them, or parishioners must send them in individually, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Preserve Marriage Washington’s website has a special “church tools” section that has specific “Instructions for Churches,” and as of the end of last week, it directed 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.

As of Tuesday, the wording on Preserve Marriage’s website had been changed, and instead of the churches being told to forward the envelopes, they are now asked to “designate a volunteer to collect all envelopes from donors, put the envelopes in a larger mailing envelope, provide their personal address as the return address, and mail them via regular U.S. mail” to the campaign.

Anderson said that the new wording is still not fully in compliance with state law.

“The campaign needs to designate a volunteer, not the church,” Anderson said. Anderson said that the PDC would contact the campaign again to clarify that point.

A message left with Preserve Marriage officials was not returned Tuesday.

The question on church collections was raised last week after other media reported Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson sent a letter to pastors in more than 40 parishes asking that they announce a special collection at upcoming services that would go to Preserve Marriage.

Anderson said that the PDC has since spoken to the legal counsel for Preserve Marriage and the Washington state Catholic Conference and told them both the same thing.

“Our advice to all of them was not to collect the contributions in Mass and send them on, in other words, not to bundle the contributions,” Anderson said Tuesday.

She said that churches have three options: they can hand out envelopes and advise parishioners to individually send them in, the campaign can have a designated person on site to collect the donations from parishioners, or the church can form a political action committee in order to collect donations on behalf of the campaign.

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, which supports the same-sex marriage law.

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