Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let the Sun Shine: Florida's Homophobic "4Marriage" Campaign

And in the “this just in” folder, Waymon Hudson at Bilerico Florida is reporting today that Florida Red and Blue, a group heading the SayNo2Campaign to oppose Florida’s amendment 2, has filed a lawsuit seeking disclosure of the names of hidden financial backers of this homophobic amendment (http://florida.bilerico.com/2008/10/floridas_amendment_2_illegal_campaigning.php). The lawsuit notes that over $750,000 underwriting the homophobic campaign drive has been channeled through a 501(c)3 called Florida Family Action, which is not a registered political action committee (PAC).

John Stemberger, chair of Florida4Marriage.org, the group promoting amendment 2, has sent out emails to prospective donors informing them that if they donate through Florida Family Action, their names will not be disclosed. A September email from Stemberger links Florida Family Action to Florida4Marriage.org, and states that prospective donors to the campaign would be kept confidential. Stemberger has defended his evasion of Florida laws requiring transparency re: funders of political initiatives by stating that some donors to his campaign wish to remain anonymous.

In a press release about the lawsuit, Florida Red and Blue maintains, “This secret scheme was intended to circumvent Florida's campaign finance laws mandating transparency and disclosure of all contributions and donors.” In a separate statement, Joseph S. Geller and Ben Kuehne, attorneys representing Florida Red and Blue, state,

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.

As I’ve noted in postings on this blog, in the year in which Steve and I lived in Florida (2006-2007), we found ourselves repeatedly harassed by a neighbor who was ostensibly concerned about our leaving trash on the curb in front of our house, after the city did not pick up the trash on its regular runs. When we checked the Know Thy Neighbor website at www.knowthyneighbor.org/florida, which lists those who signed petitions to place amendment 2 on the ballot in the coming election, we found—surprise, surprise—that this neighbor had signed the homophobic petition.

Since she complained only about our leaving trash by our curb for a few moments before we realized the city had not retrieved it, and since she did not complain when other neighbors did the same—sometime for days—we had to conclude, sadly, that she was harassing us solely and specifically because we were gay and a couple. Interestingly enough, some of those whose names appear on the Know Thy Neighbor website have been outraged to find their identities made public, though Florida law defends the disclosure of names of those who sign petitions to amend the state constitution.

One has to wonder why people promoting what they proclaim to be an honorable, moral cause are so frightened to have their names known. I’m strongly in favor of sunshine laws that make information about donors and supporters of political initiatives public.

In following right-wing Catholic groups in the U.S. for some years now, I have noted an interesting pattern in which organization links to organization, with no public information about the links, and with the same players involved in both organizations. My discussion of the Colorado situation earlier today provides a number of illustrations of this principle, which allows right-wing religious groups and individuals to exercise disproportionate influence on the political process through sheltered contributions, secret funding, and coalitions that are never apparent to the public eye.

Our political life and our culture have suffered as a result of this immoral use of money and power for ostensibly “religious” ends. It’s time to let the sun shine in.