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Gay Donors Open Wallets On Both Sides Of The Aisle

In politics, money talks. And money from gay and lesbian donors is talking louder than ever in this election cycle.

Paul Singer (right) speaks with Mitt Romney during a forum of the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington in 2009. Hedge fund manager Singer of Elliott Management has donated $1 million to Mitt Romney's superPAC.
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Above: Paul Singer (right) speaks with Mitt Romney during a forum of the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington in 2009. Hedge fund manager Singer of Elliott Management has donated $1 million to Mitt Romney's superPAC.

That's partly a result of President Obama endorsing same-sex marriage, and it's partly because Republicans are starting to see contributions as well.

That's a huge change from just a few decades ago.

When gays and lesbians started the Human Rights Campaign in the 1980s, they knew that the path to influence in Washington is paved with cash. Write a politician a check, and he's more likely to listen to you. The problem was that back then, most politicians didn't want anything to do with gay people or their money.

"It was almost an embarrassment to be supported by the gay community," says Winnie Stachelberg, who used to work for HRC and is now with the liberal Center for American Progress.

In 1988, the presidential campaign of Democrat Michael Dukakis rejected a $1 million donation from gay donors. By the time Stachelberg became HRC's political director in the mid-1990s, things had not progressed very far. She tried to hand out checks to political candidates, and some of them told her to wait.

"They would count on the $5,000 contribution, but they wanted to make sure that it was dated after the Tuesday where it would appear on a filing," she says. That was so voters would not know the candidates were accepting money from gay donors, and because "clearly attack ads would have been made," Stachelberg says.

Less than 20 years later, times have changed dramatically.

Donations In Full Force

At a Hollywood fundraiser packed with gay and lesbian celebrities last year, A-list actor Neil Patrick Harris proclaimed: "President Obama will be coming out soon!" Then, after a pause, "Out on stage. Calm down, people."

Gay Donors Open Wallets On Both Sides Of The Aisle

At the same event this year, the gay community's wallets opened even wider, thanks to the president's announcement in May that he supports same-sex marriage.

That statement by the president resulted in a dramatic fundraising spike for him. Over the 72 hours following the announcement, donations to his campaign committees nearly tripled. He took in nearly $9 million over three days, compared with $3.4 million in the three previous days, according to an NPR analysis of campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission. The numbers include contributions from people who gave at least $200.

"People who may have sat on the sidelines are now coming in in full force as a result of the president's and the administration's support for marriage equality," says gay philanthropist and Democratic political activist David Bohnett. "There's no question about that."

One of the biggest changes in money from gay donors these days is that it's flowing to both parties. The man who led President George W. Bush's re-election campaign, Ken Mehlman, is now a major fundraiser for gay causes. Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter was recently married. And a top supporter of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has started a superPAC to back Republican candidates who favor same-sex marriage.

That donor, Paul Singer, said at a 2010 fundraiser, "I believe a generation from now, gay marriage will be seen as a profoundly traditionalizing act. It will have channeled love into the most powerful social institution on Earth — marriage itself."

Shoring Up Support

So far, only one Republican in Congress has endorsed gay marriage: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

Christian Berle of Log Cabin Republicans says other GOP lawmakers are on the brink.

"We have been in conversations with a number of members who are looking to move in that direction," he says. "There's one [for whom] it's most likely a matter of months, not years."

There is a chicken-egg question here: Does money flow to politicians because they take pro-gay positions? Or do the lawmakers take those positions because they hope that will bring a flood of gay donors?

Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress says the dynamics aren't that simple. A big check can make it easier for a politician to take a controversial position — "when you say that there will be support after you take this vote and it may be tough for you, [but] we will be there to support you," she says.

That's what happened in New York state last year. Four Republican state senators helped same-sex marriage over the finish line. National groups opposing gay marriage raised money vowing to unseat those lawmakers. And wealthy gay donors stepped up with millions for those Republican politicians to defend themselves. The lawmakers will find out in November whether they'll survive.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 3, 2012 at 10:01 a.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

"When gays and lesbians started the Human Rights Campaign in the 1980s, they knew that the path to influence in Washington is paved with cash. Write a politician a check, and he's more likely to listen to you. The problem was that back then, most politicians didn't want anything to do with gay people or their money."

That pretty much sums it up for the USA, regardless of the issue--yet we dishonestly still try to instill idealism about government in high school government classes or point the finger at other nation-states.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | July 3, 2012 at 10:47 a.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

*"There is a chicken-egg question here: Does money flow to politicians because they take pro-gay positions? Or do the lawmakers take those positions because they hope that will bring a flood of gay donors?"*

I think the author is being too pessimistic and simplistic here. Yes, as with everything in politics, money is the major favor for many.

But not for all.

This seems to assume gays are one issue voters which isn't the case.

Personally, being gay has made me realize how politics systematically tries to railroad many different minority and marginalized groups, and I consider it selfish for gays to be only focused on political causes involving the gay rights movement.

Prisoners rights, immigrant rights, women's rights, rights of the poor - being gay has made me passionate about all of these even though I am not personally a member of these groups. People's experiences determine their politics.

Many gay people have grown up feeling shame, being taunted, and being marginalized. This tends to give gays a "support the underdog" mentality, be sensitive to the outcast, the forgotten, the trampled on. I think this is why many gays tend to be liberal. It's not just because liberals have historically supported us, it's because we identify more with the liberal mentality.

Again, these are only my personal opinions, I don't speak for the gay community in general, just some observations I have noticed about myself and other people I know.

I will readily admit that the whole idea of a Log Cabin Republican perplexes me. All are certainly free to their own political views and I respect their viewpoints (maybe their efforts will help change the minds of conservative politicans regarding gays) but I could never be a conservative.

And it has nothing to do with money. I'm just wired to be a liberal.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | July 3, 2012 at 3:10 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

Mission,

Well said! I could not agree with you more.

Duck,

I'm not sure why you think being gay = marginalized underdog. You live in California, one of the most gay friendly places in the world. There is an entire section of town devoted to the gay community not to mention film festivals, parades, awards, bars, clubs, newspapers, organizations, scholarships, and many politicians including the first gay mayor of San Diego who will likely be voted in soon.

I don't know how that equates to marginalized underdog or why you feel linked to prisoners, immigrants, women, or the poor as you listed. With the exception of women, none of those groups are friendly to the gay community.

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