Anti-gay marriage group fined for tardy campaign reporting

OLYMPIA — The political committee that conducted the 2012 campaign to repeal the state’s gay marriage law has been fined for failing to timely report nearly $300,000 of its expenditures.

Preserve Marriage Washington will pay a $5,000 penalty under an agreement with the Public Disclosure Commission, ending an investigation that began in August 2012.

“In the course of our reporting, we acknowledge failing to report information that we should have reported earlier,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington in Lynnwood and the committee’s volunteer chairman. “We did the best we could with the resources we had.”

Preserve Marriage Washington must pay the fine within 60 days under the stipulation approved by the commission May 28.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the law legalizing same-sex marriage Feb. 13, 2012. Eight days later, leaders of faith groups and other organizations formed Preserve Marriage Washington and began a campaign to repeal the law with a referendum. They gathered enough signatures to get Referendum 74 on the ballot.

But they lost when voters approved the measure and upheld the law. Roughly $16 million was raised and spent in the campaign — $13 million by Washington United for Marriage supporting the law and $2.96 million by Preserve Marriage Washington.

Opponents of the law hired two veterans of the anti-gay marriage movement — Chris Plante and Frank Schubert — to guide the campaign. Plante’s salary was picked up by the National Organization for Marriage while Schubert had his own company.

In August 2012, the PDC received a complaint that campaign reports did not show how much the committee was paying each of the men. After the investigation began, PDC staff reviewed reports filed by Preserve Marriage through the end of the campaign and into 2013 as the group continued filing amended reports with new information.

Investigators concluded that in the course of the full campaign, the organization failed to timely report expenditures and debts totaling $297,587. They found some required information was reported a month late. Other times information on campaign management, consulting and legal services showed up several months later than required.

In the stipulation agreement, representatives of the committee contend that “minimal harm to the public resulted from the late disclosure, because the public was able to determine from Preserve Marriage Washington’s reports that the committee was using certain vendors on a recurring basis.”

Joseph Vanderhulst, an attorney for the group, said no information was intentionally or maliciously withheld from public disclosure during the campaign.

And, he said, all of the cited errors came to the PDC’s attention because of the group’s self-reporting, and not from the original complaint.

Backholm said the committee has been inactive since the election but could not dissolve until the investigation had been completed.

He said the National Organization for Marriage “will make a contribution to cover the fine and then this (group) will go away.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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