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California: No on Prop 8 Campaign in "dead heat" - Prop 8 backers shake down California businesses
California: No on Prop 8 Campaign in "dead heat" - Prop 8 backers shake down California businesses
by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

California's Prop 8, a measure intended to reverse the California State Supreme Court's historic decision supporting marriage equality, is in a "dead heat" with supporters of LGBT rights, according to internal polling done by the No on Prop 8 Campaign.

In an "on the record" e-mail, No on 8 Campaign chair Geoff Kors told syndicated columnist Rex Wockner that the campaign's latest poll numbers showed a "dead heat." Kors added that he planned to significantly increase his personal donation to the campaign. "We desperately need another $3 million to counter their huge ad buy they did today [Wednesday]," he said.

According to pollsters at SurveyUSA, which has been following the campaign, the issue "could be decided either way by a handful of votes." In three SurveyUSA polls taken in the past six weeks, the lead has shifted narrowly between Yes and No voters. On September 25, the No votes led by 5 percentage points, on October 5 the Yes votes were leading by 5 points, and by Oct. 17 the Yes lead had been reduced to 3 points. The SurveyUSA poll has a margin of error of 4 points, so the two sides are now statistically tied.

A PPIC poll released on October 19 showed 52% against Prop 8 and 44% in favor. PPIC has consistently shown Prop 8 losing, but the margin has narrowed considerably over the three months that polls were conducted. The initial PPIC poll in July 2008 showed Prop 8 losing by 14 points. Polls often differ in their results because pollsters use different statistical models to construct their samples.

Meanwhile, backers of Prop 8 were accused of using threats to solicit donations from businesses that have already contributed to the No on Prop 8 Campaign. Associated Press reported last week that ProtectMarriage.com, the umbrella group behind Prop 8, sent a certified letter and donation form to No on 8 donors warning them that they would be publicly identified as opponents of marriage if they did not contribute to the Yes on 8 Campaign as well.

"Make a donation of a like amount to ProtectMarriage.com which will help us correct this error," the letter read. "Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. The names of any companies and organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to ProtectMarriage.com but have given to Equality California will be published."

The letter was signed by four members of the group's executive committee: campaign chairman Ron Prentice; Edward Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference; Mark Jansson, a member of the LDS (Mormon) Church; and Andrew Pugno, the attorney for ProtectMarriage.com. A donation form was attached. The letter did not say where the names would be published.

Prentice did not respond to SGN's request for a comment, but he did confirm to Associated Press that the letters were authentic. He also said he believed the letter was intended for large corporations like Time Warner, Comcast, Pacific Gas & Electric, Levi Strauss and AT&T, all of which received ProtectMarriage.com letters.

Sonya Eddings Brown, a ProtectMarriage.com spokesperson, estimated that 36 companies were targeted for the letter and said those that do not respond with a contribution would be highlighted in a press release and on the campaign website. Time Warner and Comcast have each contributed $50,000 to the No on Prop 8 campaign. PG&E, Levi Strauss, and AT&T have contributed smaller amounts.

San Diego realtor Jim Abbott, a member of Equality California's board of directors, received one of the letters last week. Describing the tone of the letter as "a bit 'Mafioso,'" Abbott said "It was a little distressing, but it's consistent with how the Yes side of this campaign has been run, which is a bit over the top." Abbott married his male partner at the end of August.

Prentice, a former vice president of Focus on the Family, is head of several inter-related anti-Gay organizations in California. The ProtectMarriage.com website describes the organization as "Protectmarriage.com, a project of California Renewal." Prentice is executive director of both California Renewal and the related California Family Council (CFC) Foundation. CFC also operates the California Family Alliance, formerly the Committee on Moral Concerns.

Both California Renewal and California Family Alliance have been suspended from doing business by California's Franchise Tax Board. According to investigative blogger Justin McLachlan, California Renewal failed to pay several years worth of state franchise taxes, while the California Family Alliance failed to file the annual returns required from tax-exempt organizations. Attorney Andrew Pugno, who represents all of Prentice's organizations, attributed the problems to clerical errors.

McLachlan also reported that most contributions to CFC go to pay its management - Prentice and his associates - rather then to CFC programs. The Orange County Register found that 55% of CFC's income goes to management, 25% goes to generate additional fundraising, and only 20% goes to pay for the CFC's programs.

CFC Executive Director Ron Prentice reportedly was paid a salary of $186,338. The other top CFC earners were Peter Henderson, who was paid $150,042; Daniel Kirby, $90,565; and Lynne Fishel, $84,699. According to a recent study by Charity Navigator, the average non-profit executive makes $150,000.

Nonprofit watchdogs like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau recommend that no more than 35% of an organization's budget be spent on management and fundraising combined, and at least 65% on programs, the charity's core mission.

CFC says its mission is "to protect and foster Judeo-Christian principles in California's laws, for the benefit of its families." At the August 2008 Values Voters Summit, Prentice was honored by Focus on the Family with its Family Champion Award for his work on Prop 8.

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