Wash. State: Catholic Churches Can’t Collect Donations to Overturn Gay Marriage Law
OLYMPIA - Washington’s campaign finance watchdog says the state’s Catholic churches can’t collect donations from parishioners for the campaign seeking to overturn the state’s gay marriage law.
Last week, Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson sent a letter to pastors in 41 parishes of the Yakima Diocese asking them to announce a special collection that would go to Preserve Marriage Washington, which is fighting the same-sex marriage law that was passed earlier this year.
The diocese’s chief of staff, Monsignor Robert Siler, said Tuesday that the expected collection date was Sept. 8-9.
But Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, says no organization can be an intermediary for a contribution. She says the church can hand out envelopes, but either a member of Preserve Washington has to be on hand to collect them or parishioners must send them in individually.
Anderson said the restrictions stem from Initiative 134, which voters passed in 1992 to regulate political contributions and campaign spending.
Siler said the diocese coordinated its efforts with the Washington state Catholic Conference.
"As far as I know, the procedures we sent to the parishes meet the requirement of state law," he said, noting that the envelopes are preaddressed to the campaign.
"We’re not collecting and counting money," he said. "We’re just collecting envelopes and forwarding them."
Anderson said that even so, what the church is proposing to do is what federal laws refer to as "bundling," and that isn’t allowed under state law. Anderson said PDC officials would be reaching out to church officials in the coming days.
"We just want to make sure they understand what they can and can’t do," she said.
"Under state law, no one can be an intermediary for a contribution," Anderson said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a loose pile of money or if each is in a little envelope."
Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington state Catholic Conference, said she couldn’t comment until she had talked with the PDC.
"It’s hard to say anything without knowing what they are talking about," she said.
Siler said, "if we need to amend our procedures, we will."
Preserve Marriage Washington has lagged in fundraising so far, raising just $471,000 compared with the nearly $6.1 million raised by Washington United for Marriage, which supports the gay marriage law.
Washington United for Marriage announced Monday that the group has reserved $5 million for television advertising starting sometime after Labor Day.