Lawsuit ensnares Californians Against Hate founder

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 7, 2009

In a lawsuit against state election officials, Proposition 8 supporters have targeted the man who first exposed the financial role the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage played in the referendum's passage in Nov. 2008.

In a subpoena, Yes on 8 and NOM want Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, to surrender all records associated with his investigation.

Karger, who is seeking financial help to mount his legal battle, founded his organization to oppose Prop. 8. He initially went after a San Diego hotel owner who put up $125,000 to help marriage opponents launch a successful petition drive to get the referendum on the ballot and a self-storage company magnate who gave the the pro-Prop 8 campaign $693,000.

Karger soon found even bigger fish to fry. His investigation showed the Mormon Church donated a large chunk of the $30 to $40 million the Yes on 8 campaign spent. The Wall Street Journal ran a story after Karger contacted the newspaper.

He also discovered the church funneled much of the funds to NOM, which has battled efforts to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians in states throughout the nation.

Calling the scheme "money laundering," Karger asked ethics commissions in California and Maine, where voters approved a referendum to ban same-sex marriage last month, to look into his charges. Both subsequently launched investigations that are on-going.

Like other states, both California and Maine require referendum campaigns report the names of contributors. The Mormons and NOM refused to comply and have filed federal suits in both states challenging the constitutionality of their election laws.

NOM and Yes on 8 are plaintiffs in U.S. District Court in Sacramento and have named every major California state election official, including the attorney general, secretary of state and all five members of the Fair Political Practices Commission, as defendants.

That's how Karger became caught in a legal net. The court served him with a subpoena on Sept. 5 that requires him to produce all e-mails, correspondence, faxes and web site information dealing with his Californians Against Hate activities going back to Jan. 1, 2008.

The subpoena also demands Karger provide financial records, as well as details on how he obtained information for his research and how he disseminated it.

Karger hired a Sacramento law firm, Stevens, O'Connell and Jacobs, and stresses he anticipates his defense will be expensive.

For the first time since he founded Californians Against Hate, Karger is seeking major financial support to help him pay the legal bills through a web site, He launched Five for Fred on Dec. 2. And Karger is asking those who log on to contribute a minimum of $5.

"If enough people donate the price of a latte (with tip), it will be a huge help," he said in a news release.

Karger told EDGE in a phone interview he doesn't know how much time and money he will have to expend to fight the subpoena. He pointed out his lawyer, Matt Jacobs, is a former U.S. assistant attorney.

His battle is just beginning.

"It's in the stages where the attorneys are arguing back and forth," Karger said.

He has also apprised Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, and its Los Angeles regional office and "at the appropriate time I will ask them for some help. Not to take the case on, but to provide support."

Karger is quick to point out Californians Against Hate is not a huge organization.

"It's just my laptop and me," he wrote on "Five for Fred."

He told EDGE he relies on "a little network around the country of people who have offered help."

"I've called on them from time to time," Karger said.

The Laguna Beach resident has also acquired a political attorney and a "great Web designer" as advisers.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].