Mormons and Arizona’s Prop 102
September 17th, 2008
A huge dust-up exploded on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star this morning. According to the Star, Kyrsten Sinema, campaign chair for Arizona Together, characterized Proposition 102 as a “mostly Mormon-backed attempt to rectify what it calls a ‘polygamy problem’ in the eyes of voters”:
The opponents’ argument against the ballot measure also rests on convincing voters that Mormons and other religious groups are seeking to “impose their views on people.”
Sinema said the ballot measure is a reflection of the Mormon church “working hard to convince the public that they are mainstream.” She said her background, being raised Mormon in Tucson, gives her the credibility to make the charge.
“I don’t think Arizonans are interested in having the Mormon religion dictate public policy to them,” Sinema said.
Sinema contends that at least three-quarters of the individual donors to the campaign are with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based on her group having Googled donor names along with “LDS” or “Mormon.”
While that method of verifying the religion of donors may be questionable, Sinema points to top backers with ties to the Mormon church: $100,000 from philanthropists Rex and Ruth Maughan, and $40,000 from Kristen Cowley, an organizer of the LDS Easter pageant.
Last June, just as the Arizona Legislature voted to place Prop 102 on the ballot, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) sent a letter to California churchesto be read during Sunday services which asked its members to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time.” I have it on good authority from Mormon colleagues that a similar campaign has been underway in Arizona since July.
Proponents of Prop 102 charge that questioning the LDS’s heavy involvement in the marriage battle in Arizona amounts to bigotry:
Michele Baer, spokeswoman for the campaign pushing the amendment, calls the focus on
Mormons a “political scare tactic from the opposition.”
But Baer — herself a Mormon singer — could not explain why voters would be scared of such involvement by Mormons.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just saying that there is such broad-based support across all political, religious and ethnic backgrounds that support this proposition.”
And Baer wouldn’t comment on where the bulk of the funding is coming from, calling that “campaign strategy.”
“I can’t share,” she said. “They can look at public records.”
It certainly is a matter of public record. A look at the Arizona Secretary of State’s web site reveals that “Yes For Marriage” collected some 190 contributions of $10,000 or higher. Four individuals contributed $100,000, 6 contributed $50,000, and 25 contributed between $20,000 and $50,000. The site, of course, does not list religious affiliation, so it’s difficult to know how many of these contributors are LDS members.
Does anyone have time to google 191 names?
But there is this interesting fact: of the 190 contributions of $10,000 or higher, 70 came from Mesa Arizona — home to Arizona’s oldest LDS Temple and a very significant Mormon population. Mesa contributors include three of the four $100,000 contributors. In fact, the temple is located on a street named for the family of one of those $100,000 contributors — David and Nancy LeSueur.
I fully expect this line of questioning to be very controversial. My email inbox is already full about this. But I do think it is newsworthy that one religious denomination appears to be bankrolling a serious public policy initiative under the guise of a broad-based grass-roots organization. If that doesn’t send a chill down the spines of everyone who cherishes religious liberty, I don’t know what does.
The campaign to defeat Prop 102 is desparately outfunded. We’re struggling to afford radio ads, while the “Yes” side already has ads on television. Please give today, whatever you can.
[Updated at 7:20 PM PDT to include additional information about Mesa, Arizona contributors]