Diverse coalition funded same-sex marriage effort

MGM, Delta Airlines, 9:30 Club among contributors

November 28, 2012|By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun

A broad coalition of donors — including casino giant MGM, Delta Airlines, a Washington nightclub and thousands of individuals across the country — together gave nearly $6 million to the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland, providing a financial advantage that supporters say was critical to the effort's success.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the main group working for approval of Question 6 on this month's ballot, raised $5.9 million — more than twice as much as opponents of the measure, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. The money paid, in part, for a stream of television ads credited with helping to build support for the measure.

Voters approved the law 52 percent to 48 percent, and marriage certificates will be issued to same-sex couples in January.

"Donations came from a cacophony of places," said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group that helped in Maryland. "Small donors. Donors via mail. Donors via the Internet. Our opponents do not have that momentum."

Supporters of the measure reported nearly 15,000 checks from individuals and organizations. Opponents drew a fraction of that, with about 2,300 donations. Each side received some six-figure checks, but proponents relied less heavily on large gifts. The average contribution on behalf of gay marriage was $402, while the average check from opponents was $1,037.

The large number of contributions — on both sides — distinguishes Question 6 from the gambling expansion measure also on the Maryland ballot. In that case, two huge casino companies with a financial stake in the outcome funded most of a $93 million battle, won by supporters of expansion. It was the most expensive political campaign in Maryland history. Unlike contributions to candidates for office, gifts to ballot campaigns are not limited by law.

All of the state's ballot committees were required to file their final campaign spending reports Tuesday night.

Supporters of the same-sex marriage measure raised almost half their money from Maryland donors — with thousands of small house parties held nightly in September and October. Opponents relied more heavily on out-of-state giving, with 30 percent of their funds coming from the Free State.

"We knew that we were going to have to do a lot of this on our own," said Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. "We went out with an eye on developing the donor base in the state — reaching out to folks who had a personal interest — and did very well that way."

Frank Schubert, a consultant who managed the campaign against legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland and three other states, blamed the fundraising gap on what he called a "sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment" against those who support "true marriage."

"It takes no courage to contribute to our opponents — it's the most politically correct thing imaginable," Schubert said.

Contributors in support of same-sex marriage included Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos, who gave $50,000. Angelos drew national attention for his contributions in this year's election, donating $1.5 million to support President Barack Obama and other Democratic lawmakers.

MGM Entertainment, which hopes to build a casino in Prince George's County, gave $75,000 to support same-sex marriage in Maryland. A spokesman for the company described the check as a "modest contribution" and noted that MGM has given previously to gay-rights causes.

The 9:30 Club, a concert venue in Washington, contributed $25,000 in support of the measure. The owners also held a fundraiser in September featuring "American Idol" star Adam Lambert.

"Although we historically don't get involved in political causes, I cannot stand by and watch discrimination be disguised as politics," said co-owner Seth Hurwitz.

Delta Airlines gave $1,000. Ebay, the auction website, sent $2,000 — a spokeswoman said the check was "consistent with our core values of nondiscrimination, diversity and inclusion."

The Maryland-based biotech firm United Therapeutics Corp. gave $100,000. The company's founder, Martine Rothblatt, is transgendered.

Several unions contributed big dollars in support of the measure. The Service Employees International Union gave $200,000. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers gave $100,000 each.

Politicians also offered support, with Rep. Chris Van Hollen giving by far the most. The Montgomery County Democrat wrote a $30,000 check from his Van Hollen for Congress account. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who sponsored the same-sex marriage legislation in Annapolis, gave $1,000 from his new superPAC. Many of the House and Senate co-sponsors of the legislation also donated.

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