Waymon Hudson

Florida's Amendment 2: Illegal Campaigning Tactics Lead to Lawsuit

Filed By Waymon Hudson | October 28, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Amendment 2, domestic partner benefits, Florida, Florida Family Action Committee, Florida Family Policy Council, Florida Red and Blue, Florida4Marriage, John Stemberger, Marriage Protection Amendment, SayNo2.com, Yes2Marriage

Florida Red & Blue, the bipartisan group behind the SayNo2 campaign to defeat Amendment 2, has just filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court asking a judge to force the group campaigning for Amendment 2 to disclose all of its donors. This comes on the heels of the campaign filing a complaint with the Florida Election Commission asking for an investigation into avoiding disclosing donations, incorrectly informing voters of the source of advertising funding, and filing false or inaccurate campaign reports.

The lawsuit asks for a judge to force Florida Family Action Committee and Florida Family Policy Council to disclose their donors. They also want the judge to stop the groups from spending "illegally obtained and expended funds," which includes the pro-Amendment 2 TV ads that have been paid for by the two groups, but are illegally identified as being paid for by Florida4Marriage.org.

Over $750,000 had been purposefully funneled through Florida Family Action, a 501(c)(4) created by Florida4Marriage head John Stemberger, since 2005 in in-kind campaign expenses. Stemberger sent out emails to contributors encouraging them to donate through the 501(c)(4) since donor names do not have to be publicly disclosed.

More after the jump...

Here's the press release from Florida Red & Blue:

Florida Red & Blue Seeks Court Action
Amendment Sponsors Refuse to Disclose Campaign Donors
or Comply with Election Laws, Trigger Suit

MIAMI, Fla. (October 28, 2008) - After a week of refusing to disclose campaign donors or comply with Election Laws and uncorrected reporting violations from January, Florida Red & Blue, the bi-partisan, statewide organization running the SayNo2 campaign opposing Amendment 2, today filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court seeking immediate disclosure of secret donors and a halt to illegally funded campaign advertising.

Florida Red & Blue is filing a lawsuit naming Florida4Marriage.org, the amendment's sponsor; the organization's chairman John Stemberger; Florida Family Action, which although not registered as a politician action committee has raised and spent more than $750,000 to underwrite the pro-amendment campaign; Florida Family Action's officers and directors; and the Florida Family Policy Council. A September email from Stemberger linked these organizations together and advised prospective donors that contributions to Florida Family Action and the Florida Family Policy Council were "Confidential." This secret scheme was intended to circumvent Florida's campaign finance laws mandating transparency and disclosure of all contributions and donors.

The suit filed today seeks a court order to compel Florida Family Action Committee and Florida Family Policy Council to disclose their donors and requests an emergency injunction to stop the expenditure of illegally obtained and expended funds, as well as to disgorge those illegal contributions. The lawsuit also seeks to terminate the continued broadcast of pro-amendment advertising, funded by these secret donations, but illegally identified as being paid for by Florida4Marriage.org.

Attorneys Joseph S. Geller and Ben Kuehne, who are filing the lawsuit on behalf of Florida Red & Blue, said,

This is a pernicious and sordid attempt to evade Florida's comprehensive campaign finance laws intended to promote full disclosure of political contributions and expenditures. The facts demonstrate those named in this lawsuit have flagrantly displayed a blatant disregard for Florida's campaign financing laws. Secret contributions are a scandal that creates public distrust and deprives voters of significant information identifying the supporters of Amendment 2. That they have need to hide behind violations of the law is indicative of the deceptive nature of the campaign. It is imperative that we restore faith in Florida's electoral process as we demand immediate action since the balloting process is already underway and the election is in danger of being comprised.

In addition to filing a recent complaint with the Florida Election Commission, Florida Red & Blue asked the amendment's sponsors to (1) comply with the law by properly registering Florida Family Action as a political committee and immediately disclose all donors (2) make its financial status known and (3) immediately withdraw all illegally labeled campaign ads.

John Stemberger, Chairman of Florida4Marriage.org, refused to rectify the issue, telling the Associated Press, "Some people want to remain anonymous." Even worse, he excused serious violations as common behavior when he told the St. Petersburg Times, "This is done around the country on a routine basis."

Derek Newton, Florida Red & Blue Campaign Manager, noted Florida4Marriage.org's actions are consistent:

They won't tell voters who's funding their campaign and they can't tell the truth about what their radical amendment really does. I just don't know if Floridians can trust someone who can't follow the law to write parts of our Constitution.

Four laws already ban same-sex marriage in Florida; therefore, the only purpose of this vaguely-worded amendment is to open the door to legislation that could threaten committed adults who form domestic partnerships including unmarried seniors, eliminating their ability to share important health care and pension benefits.

Stemberger's response to the charges by fully admitting to hiding donor's identities makes one wonder exactly what names are on those donor lists. Who would need to be "protected" by illegally funneling funds through a non-profit?

Perhaps they don't want to be associated with an Amendment that will destroy thousands of families across Florida, both gay and straight, by stripping away domestic partnerships and benefits? Perhaps they don't want people to know they are tied with a campaign that has used lies, scare tactics, bigotry, and divisiveness to push a dangerous ultra rightwing agenda?

Or maybe these secret donors realize that what they are giving money to is wrong, plain and simple.

Get to the polls and VOTE NO on Amendment 2!

For more information on the serious legal issues surrounding Amendment 2, check out Bilerico-Florida contributor Anthony Niedwiecki's series of posts:
- The Real Impact of Florida's Amendment 2
- Florida's Amendment 2: Florida Is No Connecticut!
- Florida's Amendment 2: What Does "Substantial Equivalent" To Marriage Mean?
- Florida's Amendment 2: The Lessons from Michigan


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Let's hope this leads to their ads being removed...

If Amendment 2 (I'm choking on the next word) passes on election day and the Court rules in favor of Florida Red and Blue can the Amendment be invalidated???

http://www.SayNo2.com

I'm not sure, Dianne. Let me do some digging and find out. It's a great question...

What I can't understand is why this asinine organization hasen't had it's dirty laundry posted all over the TV and print media headlins.

These wing nut organizations will do anything legal or other wise to to futher their hateful agenda, and Florida is full of them. God Bless you all at Florida Red and Blue.

Rip these right wingers heads off and s**t in their neck.