Gay-marriage initiative fight brewing

It could be round two of gay geeks vs. affluent evangelicals next June.
Many of the supporters of 2000’s Proposition 22, a successful initiative to specifically outlaw gay marriage in California, are gearing up for stronger, follow-up initiative. Prominent gay political donors are poised to fund the opposition. The sides have a couple of things in common: They’re likely to heavily rely on a small cadre of extremely wealthy individuals, and much of their money will come from outside the state.

There are four anti-gay-marriage initiatives currently cleared for signature gathering with the secretary of state’s office. The two measures gay political activists are taking most seriously are a group that includes Gayle Knight, widow of William “Pete” Knight, the late GOP state senator who wrote the Proposition 22. Lined up behind her are Focus on the Family and a long list of potential donors.

Most prominent among these are pair of Southern Californians, Orange County-based billionaire financier Howard Ahmanson and Christian radio magnate Ed Atsinger. Each gave $100,000 to the original Knight campaign. A spokesman for Atsinger’s radio company, Salem Communications, said that Atsinger is monitoring the situation but has yet to make any donations in the current cycle.

Their opposition is likely to be led by several computer industry multimillionaires who gave big to fight the Knight Initiative in 2000. Best-known of these is Tim Gill, the Colorado-based founder of Quark Inc., who gave a quarter-million in that effort; his non-profit foundation gave $2.5 million, mainly to gay-oriented charities, in California last year. Other anti-Proposition 22 donors made their fortunes at ETrade and WordPerfect.

So far, the only one of these big-money tech-industry donors to put in big money recently is GeoCities founder David Bohnett, who gave $25,000 to the Equality for All California Families coalition last summer. The group came into existence at the beginning of 2003 and has taken $625,000 in all–the vast majority of it in the past two years.

Both sides have stated in press reports and elsewhere that they plan to raise around $10 million if there is a campaign. As they play out another year waiting for another major effort by the other side, the coalition is in regular contact with these big donors, said Geoff Kors, director Equality California, the coalition’s founding sponsor.

“We haven’t started a big fundraising effort,” Kors said, “but they’re all kept appraised of what’s going on.

“On both sides, we’re talking many tens of millions of dollars,” Kors added.

Familiar foes

On Tuesday, the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics released a report, “The Money Behind the 2006 Marriage Amendments.”

“It’s basically gay and lesbian rights groups versus Christian conservative groups,” said Megan Moore, the report’s author.

This was the third year the Institute has done a report on this issue. Moore said this was long enough to start to notice a few changes. The most obvious is that gay-marriage supporters are starting to dominate fundraising. In 2004, supporters of anti-gay-marriage initiatives raised $6.8 million for measures in 13 states, while $6.6 million was gathered to fight them.

Gay-marriage supporters pulled slightly ahead in fundraising in 2005, a low-money year that saw measures in only Kansas and Texas. Last year, there was a total of $18 million spent on initiatives in nine states, but gay-marriage proponents raised $14 million of that. The marriage bans won eight of those contests, but gay-marriage opponents suffered their first statewide loss at the ballot box in Arizona.

The major players didn’t change much on either side. The Arlington Group, a large coalition of Christian conservative organizations, remained the major player pushing initiatives. It was founded in 2002 by a group of major political players including Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich. Last year, Arlington coalition members raised 40 percent of their side’s money and had a hand in all nine states initiatives.

Arlington’s chairman is James Dobson, who is also the founder and chairman Focus on the Family. The Colorado Springs-based organization paid nearly $1.2 million of the over $1.6 million contributed by Arlington coalition members. It hasn’t traditionally given as much as in California as in many other states, though it and a California affiliate did spend $86,000 opposing the Proposition 71 stem-cell-research initiative in 2004.

Focus on the Family is the top endorsement listed on the ProtectMarriage Web site; it also contributed about a quarter of the $79,000 ProtectMarriage took in last cycle. Kors said the national organization has at least $140 million in assets. But it might not be the top Colorado donor in California’s gay-marriage campaign.

Mile-high money

When asked why the pro-gay-marriage side has become better off financially recently, Moore said, “The biggest change between 2004 and 2006 is Tim Gill established the Gill Action Fund, which is the biggest contributor on the opposition side.”

A gay political consultant, who asked not to be named, put it a slightly different way.

“While most of the rest of the gay community was holding hands and singing ‘kumbaya,’ Tim Gill was trying to figure out how to crush the opposition’s throat.”

A decade ago, Forbes listed Gill’s fortune as $425 million. Gill gave a quarter-million dollars to the Proposition 22 opposition in 2000. In addition to distributing $3.8 million in to groups opposing gay-marriage bans last year, Moore said Gill also inspired or coordinated another $1.4 million in giving by other wealthy individuals. The Gill Fund has also coordinated a small donor campaign that helped take down Iowa state Representative Danny Carroll, who had carried legislation to ban gay marriage in that state.

A spokesperson for the Gill Action Fund confirmed that they were closely monitoring the situation in California, but said they prefer to defer comment to Equality for All.

While Gill’s donations have been mainly liberal, he lured away the president of the national Log Cabin Republicans. Patrick Guerriero became executive director of the Gill Action Fund last May.

The California Log Cabin Republicans are also looking at an initiative campaign as a chance to make a difference. That group’s new executive director, James Vaughn, pointed to a recent national poll of 2,000 Republicans called “The Elephant Looks in the Mirror.” It found 49 percent favored allowing gays to serve in the military, 43 percent favored at least civil unions for gay couples and 53 percent said the GOP spent too much time focusing of gay marriage. These results were included in a letter they CA Log Cabins sent to numerous state Republicans last month.

Vaughn said his group was working to raise $15,000 to $20,000 to follow up some of these issues in a statewide GOP poll. If they got similar results, he said, they could be used to help wedge moderate Republicans away from an initiative effort.

“Most politicians are followers rather than leaders,” Vaughn said. “They don’t want to get too far ahead of their constituency.”

Gill is hardly the only big tech-industry donor. Gill’s 2000 donation was matched by Bruce Bastian, the Utah-based founder of WordPerfect Software. Big California based donors includes ETrade executive Kathy Levinson and record mogul David Geffen at $100,000 each, along with GeoCitie’s Bohnet at $50,000.
Forty-two other individuals gave at least $10,000 each.

Christian cash

They’ll have plenty of deep pockets opposition within California. Both Atsinger and Ahmanson have been extremely active in state politics in recent years.
Salem media founder Atsinger has given out $878,000 in California political donations since 2000. At various times he’s been a prominent supporter Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom McClintock and Bill Simon’s 2002 gubernatorial run. He’s also given heavily to pro-bus
iness groups; such as $97,000 to the California Independent Business PAC.

Ahmanson and his wife, Roberta, have made a whopping $4.6 million in state political donations since the beginning on 1999. They also gave $1 million to the American Anglican Council, a conservative group that has worked to wedge apart the Episcopal Church over the issue of consecrating gay bishops. They’re also major givers to creationist organizations, such as the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.

One source that won’t be sending money is Helping Hands Ministries in Georgia. The group gave $440,000 to the original Proposition 22 campaign, but later rescinded most of this due to legal and tax issues. Executive director Bryan Green, who took over shortly after this donation, said his group now focuses on good works with individuals.

“No, we’re not interested in funding that again,” Green said. “We got a lot of bad publicity locally.”

Hollingsworth, the ProtectMarriage organization, Focus on the Family and the Campaign for Children and Families did not return calls seeking comment on this story. The attorney for ProtectMarriage was traveling and could not be reached.

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