Anti-Ref. 71 group sues to lift contribution limit, keep donors secret
A Lynnwood-based organization that opposes the state's domestic partnership law and is working to defeat Referendum 71 has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma seeking to circumvent campaign contribution limits so that it can accept big donations before the Nov. 3 election.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Lynnwood-based organization that opposes the state's domestic partnership law and is working to defeat Referendum 71 has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma seeking to circumvent campaign contribution limits of $5,000 and to keep secret the names of those who make smaller donations.
State campaign finance laws require campaigns to disclose names and addresses of those who donate over $25 to a campaign. Campaigns must also include employer names and addresses as well as the occupations of donors contributing over $100. The laws limit to $5,000 contributions from businesses and individuals made within 21 days of the general election.
The attorney for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, which filed the lawsuit through its newly formed Family PAC late Wednesday, acknowledged that there are substantial contributions in the offing that the campaign wants to accept but can't because of the limits.
It comes just over a week after the state's donation limits took effect and names Washington's secretary of state, attorney general and members of the Public Disclosure Commission, which oversees the state's campaign contributions laws. By midafternoon today, state officials had not yet been notified of the lawsuit.
The suit is the latest development in a months-long contentious legal back and forth involving Referendum 71, which is asking voters to approve or reject the latest expansion of the state's domestic partnership law, granting marriage-like benefits to gay couples and some senior couples.
Family PAC is seeking a temporary restraining order to lift the $5,000 limit and skip the requirement to identify those who donate at a certain level — although it didn't specify what that level should be. It has asked for an expedited hearing on its restraining-order request in the hope of being able to accept the large donations in the time remaining before the Nov. 3 election.
James Bopp Jr. of Indiana, a conservative federal and state elections-law attorney, is representing Family PAC. He said the state's threshold for identifying donors is among the lowest in the country. "What person in their right mind would vote for or against gay rights based on Joe Blow giving $26 in a campaign involving millions of dollars?" he said.
He said it's the responsibility of the state to determine the level at which voters will begin to care: "$10,000, maybe? Certainly not $25 or $100."
Bopp, who is general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, is also the attorney representing Protect Marriage Washington in that group's lawsuit, now before U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to block the names of those who signed Referendum 71 petitions.
He said: "After the harassment directed at supporters of Proposition 8 last year in California, no one should have their personal information published on the Internet for making a contribution and certainly not at the irrational levels set by the state of Washington.
"The First Amendment protects citizens engaged in political speech from compelled disclosure," Bopp said. "Disclosure thresholds such as these discourage individuals from participating in the political process."
The suit has been assigned to Judge Ronald B. Leighton.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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