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Group fighting California’s gay-inclusive education law short on signatures, accused of violations

An ongoing attempt to repeal a new California law, Senate Bill 48, which mandates school instruction of history to include the contributions of gay and transgender Americans, people with disabilities and other cultural groups, suffered two major bruises this week, suggesting the new law might not suffer the same fate as 2008′s Proposition 8, which repealed the legalization of same-sex marriage through a referendum.

“We do not Have Enough Signatures,” read the headline of newsletter emailed to SB 48 opponents by the Stop SB 48 campaign. Stop SB 48 is based in Sacramento, Calif., and is associated with the Capitol Resource Institute (CRI), a conservative state policy group that encourages churches to influence public policy.

In its 17th letter in a series of last-minute appeals, Stop SB 48 organizers admitted they are short the number of signatures needed — 504,760 — to qualify for a referendum before the law is implemented next January.

Ever since the education law passed this summer, Stop SB 48 has been emailing subscribers for help and money on an almost daily basis. On Tuesday, the group emailed supporters saying they anticipated having enough signatures by the Oct. 11 deadline, but two days later, organizers said that, due to improperly filled-out petitions, “If we had to turn in today, we failed.”

An example of the campaign’s desperation was evidenced by a text American Independent reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn received from the organization on Thursday. Zinshteyn had no prior knowledge of or communication with the group, but he does have a California cell phone number. The text he received read:

Subject: Stop

Homosexual & Transgender training in schools www.StopSB48.com to Download, Sign, Stamp & Send Petitions that will Voter Veto SB48

But even if Stop SB 48 is able to scrape together enough signatures in the next four days, more problems will likely arise, this time with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

On Monday, Equality California, the state’s largest LGBT-rights organization, filed a complaint (PDF) with the Fair Political Practices Commission, asking the agency to investigate whether three organizations connected with referendum campaign have violated the state’s campaign finance law.

The three organizations called out include Stop SB 48; the Capitol Resource Center, to whom the the Stop SB 48 website and campaign materials are registered and addressed; and the Pacific Justice Institute.

In the complaint, Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia suggested that, because of its high amount of campaign activity so far, Stop SB 48 has likely raised and spent enough money that would require the organization to register with the state as a political committee.

“They are raising and spending funds specifically for the purpose of qualifying a referendum,” Palencia wrote. “As you know, organizations that raise or spend funds for political purposes are political committees and incur filing obligations. Such reporting is essential for the public to understand the sources of funding behind statewide ballot measures. In addition, their coordinated campaign with Stop SB 48 likely constitutes unreported in-kind contributions. This violation obscures the source and nature of Stop SB 48’s support.”

Both the Capitol Resource Institute (CRI) and the Pacific Justice Institute have denied the allegations, framing them as a political maneuver to thwart a repeal of the new law.

“They are grasping at straws,” CRI CEO Karen England told TAI. ”I have no idea where they got most of what they are accusing us of. … They didn’t wait for our filings to get the facts straight.”

England said invidual donations to Stop SB 48 have not amounted to more than $5,000 and neither have expenditures; thus disclosure would be unnecessary at this point, and the group plans to file at the end of the month. She also disputed Equality California’s other allegation, that CRI has failed to report as a lobbyist employer. England said CRI has not had a lobbyist on staff since 1997.

The point of the complaint is essentially to find out what they don’t know, California Equality spokesperson Rebekah Orr told TAI.

“Their activities seemed to indicate violations,” Orr said. “The question is what do they have to hide? People who are considering signing this petition deserve to know who is sponsoring that effort.”

When asked how much money the campaign has raised so far and which organizations have donated, England told TAI to wait for the campaign disclosure reports at the end of this month.

Orr also noted that the the separation between CRI and Stop SB 48 is unclear. Nowhere on Stop SB 48’s website is there reference to CRI, and Orr said the same thing about SB 48 mailers; yet the site is registered to Capitol Resource Family Impact, which is CRI’s legal arm. Although England claims she is volunteering for Stop SB 48, she still receives a paycheck (PDF) from CRI, which shares a mailing address with the referendum campaign.

Orr also said that Stop SB 48 has been untruthful about the bill they are trying to repeal, claiming that it will force all California schools to to endorse transgenderism, bisexuality, and homosexuality, which she said is not the case.

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