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Washington state warns Catholic bishop to stop fund-raising against gay marriage

Washington state law prevents organizations, including churches, from raising money from individuals to give to a political campaign. A Catholic bishop has been fund-raising in opposition of same-sex marriage.

By Jonathan KaminskyReuters / August 30, 2012

Gov. Chris Gregoire, (l.), is embraced by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, after the House voted to legalize gay marriage in Washington state in Feb. 8, 2012, in Olympia, Wash. Now, the state government has ordered a Catholic Bishop to stop a fundraising campaign against gay marriage that violates the state's campaign finance rules.

Elaine Thompson/AP

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Olympia, Wash.

Washington state regulators have warned a Roman Catholic bishop that his diocese risks running afoul of state campaign finance laws if he follows through with a planned fund-raising effort opposing same-sex marriage on the November ballot.

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State law prohibits organizations, including churches, from raising money from individuals to give to political campaigns, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

"It's not because it's a church. It's because it's not a stand-alone individual," Anderson said on Thursday.

The commission was calling into question a recent letter from Bishop Joseph Tyson to Yakima-area pastors urging them to distribute donation envelopes to parishioners during the weekend of Sept. 8-9.

The money would go to Preserve Marriage Washington, the campaign to defeat legalization of same-sex marriage on the state's November ballot.

The Democratic-controlled Washington Legislature voted this year to legalize same-sex marriage, and Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat and a Catholic, signed the measure into law during in February.

But the law was blocked from taking effect as scheduled in June when opponents submitted a petition for a repeal referendum on the November ballot. Referendum 74, subsequently certified as having collected enough signatures to qualify, asks voters to approve or reject the gay marriage bill enacted in February.

Tyson's letter instructs parish priests not to open the envelopes once they are turned back in, but to place them into a pre-addressed security envelope to be mailed directly to Preserve Marriage, according to local media reports.

"It's not our envelope," Tyson told local television station KIMA-TV. "We're not collecting the money, and we're not taking the money. Preserve Marriage Washington is doing that. We're going to follow the state law."

But Anderson said she was not swayed.

"That can't happen under our state law," she told Reuters. "It doesn't matter if they haven't looked at the contributions."

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