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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.

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The commission has not heard directly from the diocese, but it sent Tyson a letter Thursday outlining the relevant campaign finance rules, Anderson said.

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Under state law, only individuals are allowed to collect donations and give them to a political campaign, and in doing so must take down each donor's name, address, occupation and employer. If the donation is above $25, that information must then be made public by the campaign.

The diocese may pass out campaign donation envelopes to its parishioners, but it cannot collect them or act in any way as an intermediary, Anderson said. The church is free to create a political action committee to raise money, and could then transfer donations to other campaigns as it sees fit, she said.

Organizations found to have violated state campaign finance laws can be fined up to $10,000 for each transgression.

Several diocese officials reached by Reuters said they were not authorized to comment. Tyson did not immediately return telephone calls.

Wake Forest University divinity professor James Dunn said the diocese's fund-raising plans could also threaten its federal tax-exempt status as a non-political religious organization.

Handing out donation envelopes for a political campaign in church "is in blatant violation of the spirit of the law," Dunn said, adding that the Internal Revenue Service has not strictly enforced that law in recent years.

Six states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage, but majority support at the polls in November would make Washington the first state to legalize gay matrimony by popular vote.

Preserve Marriage Washington has raised more than $471,000 for its campaign against gay marriage, Public Disclosure Commission records show.

Same-sex marriage supporters under the Washington United for Marriage campaign have raised more than $6 million, including $2.5 million donated by founder Jeff Bezos.

Editing by Steve Gorman.

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