The New York Times editorial board today endorsed an investigation of whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints violated campaign finance laws with its enthusiastic support of Proposition 8 to roll back same-sex marriage in California. (The measure passed, but is now being challenged in the courts.) An excerpt:
"Based on the facts that have come out so far, the state is right to look into whether the church broke state laws by failing to report campaign-related expenditures...Churches, which risk their tax-exempt status if they endorse candidates, have more leeway in referendum campaigns. Still, when they enter the political fray, they have the same obligation to follow the rules that nonreligious groups do."
The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating the role of the Mormon church in the campaign in response to a complaint from Californians Against Hate, an organization supporting same-sex marriage, alleging that the Mormon church failed to report non-monetary contributions to the campaign. The Mormon church has posted explanations of its position, along with statements defending it, here.
Also, San Francisco Chronicle religion writer Matthai Kuruvila on Friday took a look at an argument by some supporters of same-sex marriage that the Mormon church and others should lose their tax-exempt status because of their advocacy work. The story suggests that such a move is highly unlikely. An excerpt:
"Interviews with experts and activists on the issue say Prop. 8 opponents should look elsewhere for reasons to criticize the measure's supporters. 'They almost certainly have not violated their tax exemption,' said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the leading advocacy organization on the issue. 'While the tax code has a zero tolerance for endorsements of candidates, the tax code gives wide latitude for churches to engage in discussions of policy matters and moral questions, including when posed as initiatives.' Generally speaking, churches, schools, and nonprofits that are 501c(3) organizations are prohibited from spending more than 20 percent of their budgets on political activities, Lynn said, noting that his organization is held to the same standard. The 20 percent threshold means that the Catholic or Mormon churches, whose organizations span the globe, would have had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars - if not billions - to violate their tax-exempt status."
(Photo, by Reed Saxon/AP, shows a gay marriage protest outside the LDS temple in Los Angeles on Nov. 12.)