Friday, October 07, 2011

Equality California Files Complaint Against SB 48 Opponents

Alleges Anti-Queer Groups Breaking Law to Keep Donors’ Names Secret


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Roland Palencia, Paulo Sibaja (from

Equality California (EQCA), the Sacramento-based Queer-rights lobbying group that has assumed the role of defending SB 48 — a new law that requires the teaching of the role and contributions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, people with disabilities and people of Pacific Islander descent in California’s public middle and high schools — called a press conference October 3 to announce that they’re filing a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Though EQCA has received reports from various sources that SB 48 opponents are telling outright lies about the bill — including a leaked video by Tony Perkins of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council (FRC) in which he claims that the bill requires “impressionable children as young as five … to be indoctrinated” in Queer “lifestyles” — that’s not what the complaint is about.
Instead, according to Cary Davidson, election-law attorney and EQCA board member, the bill alleges that three organizations, the Stop SB 48 campaign committee, the Pacific Justice Institute, and the Capitol Resource Institute (also called Capitol Resource Family Impact, at least according to a logo on their Web site), are working together as part of “an unlawful scheme to support the qualification of a referendum” to put SB 48 on the June 2012 ballot and give California voters a chance to repeal it. Though EQCA’s executive director Roland Palencia and communications director Rebekah Orr also participated in the press conference, Davidson did most of the talking as he attempted to explain just why they think the relationship between those three organizations is illegal.
The basic case, as Palencia and Davidson outlined it, is that the Capitol Resource Institute (a lobbying group which basically does what EQCA does, only on the other side) and the Pacific Justice Institute (whose “about” page on their Web site defines them as “a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties”) are taking donations for the anti-SB 48 campaign without officially registering as “recipient committees.” Davidson alleged not only that these organizations have collected $1,000 or more in donations against SB 48 — the legal trigger that would require them to register — but they are “commingling [funds] and not separating out what they are raising for Stop SB 48” from what they’re collecting for their normal operations. According to Davidson, they would have to register as campaign organizations once they’ve spent $5,000 on the anti-SB 48 campaign.
What’s more, Davidson alleged, Paulo Sibaja, the director of communications and legislation for Capitol Resource Institute, has signed on as the official proponent of the referendum against SB 48. According to Davidson, Sibaja has the right to do this as a volunteer, but if he’s spending more than 10 percent of the staff time for which Capitol Resource Institute is paying him on the anti-SB 48 campaign, that constitutes an “in-kind contribution” and the Institute needs to report that as a donation to the campaign. Also, as one of the reporters covering the press conference noted, the address on the Web site to send campaign donations to is 660 J Street, Suite 250,
Sacramento, CA   95814 — the offices of the Capitol Resource Institute.
Asked what the point of the complaint is, Davidson said that the anti-SB 48 forces are evading their legal obligation to disclose the names, addresses and occupations of their contributors as well as the amounts they are receiving. “You can’t follow the money,” he said. “You have a blank slate on their side. … It appears that something isn’t right, and they [the three organizations] appear to be coordinating.” The “blank slate” seems to extend to the Capitol Resource Institute Web site, whose “about us” page identifies neither their board members nor their staff (EQCA’s Web site lists both their board and staff) and does not mention Paulo Sibaja at all. Confirmation that he is indeed employed by Capitol Resource Institute came from his listing on the Web site
Both Palencia and Orr argued that the three organizations’ alleged evasion of disclosure rules “puts us at a disadvantage” since EQCA is following the law and disclosing who their supporters are. “One has to wonder why they are trying to conceal their sources of support,” Orr said. “It’s difficult to recognize any reason they would do that other than that they think it would be disadvantageous to their cause. Looking at who is supporting it would be helpful to voters.” Orr also said that similar groups on the radical religious Right are “still fighting disclosure on Question 1 in Maine” — the anti-marriage equality initiative passed by voters there in 2009 by a similar margin to the radical Right’s victory in California’s Proposition 8 (52 percent in favor, 48 percent against).
According to Davidson, in order to meet the requirements of the law each of the three organizations would have to register as recipient committees. He said Stop SB 48 is properly registered but the other two are not, and he alleged that Capitol Resource Institute and Pacific Justice Institute are illegally soliciting and receiving contributions for the anti-SB 48 campaign without either routing them through Stop SB 48 or registering as recipient committees themselves. Davidson admitted that he doesn’t have any hard evidence that they have collected money for the anti-SB 48 campaign, but “there is quite a lot of activity that has been seen and discussed electronically,” including the costs of printing the referendum petitions as well as direct-mail appeals, video posts and so-called “push-poll” calls (phone calls purporting to be doing a survey on an issue but actually asking loaded questions designed to persuade people to take a particular position).
Davidson explained that the next step after they file the complaint is “some sort of action by the Commission. They typically send the complaint to the subjects of the complaint” — the organizations whose actions are allegedly violating the law — and “then they usually take action within two weeks.” Asked what EQCA hopes to accomplish by filing such a complaint just nine days before the October 12 deadline by which Stop SB 48 must file 700,000 valid signatures statewide, Davidson said, “There are a number of things that can happen, depending on the action the Commission takes, including fines, disclosure and making sure we’re all playing by the same rules.” In answer to a reporter’s question, Davidson conceded that it’s highly unlikely that the signatures Stop SB 48 has already gathered would be invalidated by the FPPC. But he did say the complaint “may at least alert them that we are paying attention, and that they can’t get away with this if it qualifies because the FPPC will be watching them.”
Asked whether the Stop SB 48 people might be avoiding disclosure because they feel potential contributors might be intimidated if their names were revealed, Palencia said, “These people are very public about their opposition to the Gay community. It’s not like they’re posting videos on YouTube with masks on. We know who they are. Everybody knows who they are. Every election cycle, we have to go through collective and individual humiliation where children who are Gay or are perceived to be Gay are harassed. That would be the intimidation. It’s totally coming from them.”
“This is a narrative they’re trying to tell about them being the victims when they’re the victimizers,” added Orr. “That is a false narrative. Initiatives like this lead to an increase in hate crimes. If these folks are trying to get on the ballot by spending money to get contributions illegally, they ought to be fined, and that impacts their ability to target us.”
This reporter personally received a push-poll call against SB 48 asking if he thought it was acceptable that “children as young as five” be “indoctrinated” into the Queer “lifestyle” — language strikingly similar to Tony Perkins’ in his video appeal to churches to encourage their parishioners to sign the anti-SB 48 petition and to have it available on church grounds after Sunday services. Though Palencia said that their complaint wasn’t addressing the actual arguments being used by SB 48’s opponents to get people to sign their petition he added that “they’re using very charged language, very stereotypical” to convert the SB 48 campaign from one about inclusion of age-appropriate lessons about Queer people in schools to an up-or-down vote of whether people approve of Queers or the so-called “Queer lifestyle.”
It’s also clear from the way Tony Perkins is framing the issue on his videos on the SB 48 Web site — using the phrase “Transgender, Bisexual and homosexual lifestyles” — and the links they’re including to sites with photos and videos of male-to-female Transgender people and so-called “feminine men” that the opposition to SB 48 intends to highlight Transgender people and single them out for especially heavy attacks.
Palencia and Orr fielded criticisms from this reporter that the campaign to protect SB 48 may be repeating EQCA’s decision in the No on 8 campaign to put straight people in the forefront of the campaign and essentially drive Queers into the closet in their own civil rights struggle, and that they may be basing the argument for SB 48 on the idea that unless they’re taught “role models” in school, young Queers will drink, take drugs and commit suicide. Palencia took issue with that interpretation of his remarks at the August 25 meeting of the San Diego Democratic Club that the formation of a pro-SB 48 coalition comprised mostly of non-Queers. “We are going to have a very diverse coalition,” he said, adding that he had pledged at the club meeting to reach out to people with disabilities and the groups that represent them.
Orr added that the “role model” argument will not be the main part of EQCA’s case for keeping SB 48 on the books. “Essentially, what we’re saying is history needs to be complete and accurate,” she explained. “In addition to that, there are side benefits that laws like this foster a climate of tolerance that makes all kids safer.”
Asked what the consequences might be for public education on Queer issues in California if the radical Right is successful in repealing SB 48 at the ballot box, Orr said “it certainly doesn’t prevent” public schools from teaching the role and contributions of Queer people, “but it would have a chilling effect and provide an education that’s less than honest, and could be damaging to LGBT students in schools.”