California gay marriage foes want donors anonymous
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Supporters of the ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California have filed a lawsuit seeking to block their campaign finance records from public view, saying the reports have led to the harassment of donors.

"No one should have to worry about getting a death threat because of the way he or she votes," said James Bopp Jr., an attorney representing two groups that supported Proposition 8, Protect Marriage.com and the National Organization for Marriage California. "This lawsuit will protect the right of all people to help support causes they agree with, without having to worry about harassment or threats."

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to order the secretary of state's office to remove all donations for the proposition from its Web site.

It also asks the court to relieve the two groups and "all similarly situated persons" from having to meet the state's campaign disclosure requirements. That would include having to file a final report on Proposition 8 contributions at the end of January, as well as reports for any future campaigns the groups undertake.

Proposition 8, approved by 52.3 percent of California voters on Nov. 4, reversed a state Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage. The measure's opponents have asked the Supreme Court to overturn it.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday cites a series of incidents in which those who gave money to support Proposition 8 received threatening phone calls, e-mails and postcards. One woman claims she was told: "If I had a gun, I would have gunned you down along with each and every other supporter."

Another donor reported a broken window, one said a flier calling him a bigot was distributed around his hometown and others received envelopes containing suspicious white power, according to the lawsuit.

Businesses employing people who contributed to the Proposition 8 campaign have been threatened with boycotts, the suit said.

Supporters of the gay marriage ban fear the donor backlash will hurt their efforts to raise money in the future, perhaps to fight an initiative seeking to overturn the ban.

"Several donors have indicated that they will not contribute to committee plaintiffs or similar organizations in the future because of the threats and harassment directed at them as a result of their contributions ... and the public disclosure of that fact," the lawsuit said.

The suit said courts have held that laws requiring disclosure of campaign contributions can be overturned or restricted if a group can make "an uncontroverted showing" that identifying its members can result in economic reprisals or threats of physical coercion.

California's Political Reform Act, which voters approved in 1974, established disclosure requirements for candidates and campaign committees.

The secretary of state's office and another defendant, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, declined to comment Thursday on the lawsuit.

But Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the gay rights group that led the campaign against Proposition 8, called it hypocritical for supporters of the measure to try to overturn voter-approved campaign finance laws.

He said Proposition 8 supporters used campaign finance records during the campaign to threaten gay rights supporters.

"They've used these records to attack corporations, to attack individuals," Kors said.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, which supports public access to government records and meetings, said the lawsuit is likely to be unsuccessful. But he also said the plaintiffs' arguments are not trivial.

"The problem with their argument, of course, is that campaign finance laws, both at the state and federal level, have been litigated endlessly now since Watergate and the argument has, in one form or another, been rejected," Scheer said.

He said courts have consistently failed to agree that contributors have a right to donate directly and anonymously to a candidate or campaign. He said some states have less restrictive reporting requirements, but they always include disclosure of donors.

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Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.