A federal judge on Thursday denied a request to keep the names of donors to California's anti-gay marriage initiative secret, saying the public has a right to know who's giving money to state ballot measures.
Supporters of the initiative, which was approved by voters in November, had sought a preliminary injunction to hide the identities of those who contributed to their campaign. They asked the judge to block the release of late donors, who will be included in a report scheduled to be released publicly on Monday.
They also asked him to order the state to remove the names of all contributors to Proposition 8, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage.
U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. sided with the state. In his ruling from the bench, England said California's campaign disclosure laws are intended to protect the public and are especially important during expensive initiative campaigns.
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"If there's ever a need to bring sunshine on a political issue, it is with a ballot measure," England said.
He said many campaign committees have vague names, obscuring their intent. The public would have no way of knowing who is behind the campaigns unless they can see who's giving money, he said.
"This clearly is a victory for the people of California and disclosure. The commission will continue to vigorously defend any suit brought against disclosure of campaign statements," said Roman Porter, executive director of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Supporters of the gay marriage ban said public disclosure of their financial supporters had put the donors at risk. They argued that opponents of Proposition 8 used the public lists to issue death threats, boycott businesses, accost people at their homes and engage in other forms of harassment.
Another 1,600 people will be put at risk for harassment or reprisals when the postelection campaign finance reports are released on Monday, said Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign.
Disclosing donors' names will chill the ability of gay marriage opponents to run any campaigns related to gay marriage in the future, he said.
The judge said he didn't agree that the plaintiffs had a probability of success in court. He also said they had not proven that they would suffer "irreparable injury" if he did not grant the preliminary injunction.
The judge planned to issue a longer, written ruling later. The initiative's supporters said they did not immediately know whether they would appeal.