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MercuryNews.com

 

August 1, 2008

 

The Mike Swift and Leigh Poitinger Mercury News

 

 

California same-sex marriage fight draws big money on both sides

 

 

The California Supreme Court ruling in May legalizing same-sex marriage galvanized people on both sides of the issue, but it appears to have opened supporters' pocketbooks even more.

 

A Mercury News analysis of campaign fundraising reports filed Thursday shows gay-marriage supporters raised about $1.6 million since the May 15 court ruling - almost three times more than the groups supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage raised in late May and June.

 

The flurry of donations pushed the lead groups fighting Proposition 8's ban slightly ahead of their opponents in fundraising efforts over the first half of 2008. The total does not include several large donations a major gay rights group - Equality for All - received in July that were not included in the latest campaign filings.

 

All told, Equality for All and a related organization raised about $2.6 million in the first half of 2008. That's about $300,000 more than Proposition 8's major backers - Protect Marriage and the National Organization for Marriage-California - raised through June 30.

 

Still, Proposition 8 supporters say they are pleased with the pace of their fundraising. Protect Marriage also saw a surge in donations after May 15, but those tended to be smaller, individual contributions, the Mercury News analysis found.

 

"It's still early, but certainly we are pleased by where we're at at this stage of the campaign," said Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for Protect Marriage.

 

Proposition 8 supporters' largest donation before June 30 came from outside California: Influential conservative James Dobson's Christian organization Focus on the Family gave $250,000 to Protect Marriage. Dobson's group believes the outcome of Proposition 8 will affect the marriage debate in the rest of the country, said Monica Marti, a spokeswoman for the group.

 

"If we had more money to give them, we would," she said. "We want to keep marriage defined as one man and one woman throughout the nation."

 

Protect Marriage pulled in an even larger donation - $500,000 - from the American Family Association on July 21. The Mississippi group says it has 2 million online supporters.

 

In all, Protect Marriage attracted donations from 33 states. The national breadth of donations indicates that the rest of the country feels a stake in the debate, Kerns said. She said since California doesn't require couples to be residents to marry, there is concern that same-sex marriage could spread to other states if it remains legal.

 

"The rest of the nation is watching," she said.

 

Covering the three-month period that included the Supreme Court's ruling May 15, and the first marriages of gay men and lesbians June 16, the new finance reports offer one window into how the issue is playing in California and elsewhere. Contributions in favor of a ban flowed in from conservative San Diego and Orange counties, while Los Angeles County and San Francisco produced some of the largest tallies in opposition to a constitutional ban.

 

Groups opposed to a constitutional ban attracted about $750,000 in donations from outside California, more than the roughly $600,000 in out-of-state contributions received by Proposition 8 supporters.

 

"I think we have to spend more than they do," Steve Smith, the lead campaign consultant for Equality for All, said Thursday. "I don't think we have to spend a lot more, but I think we have to spend more than they do, and we're completely capable of raising that."

 

Equality for All also received several major out-of-state donations in July, after the conclusion of the second-quarter reports. The group received $1.05 million this week from a political action committee of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign and $250,000 from the Gill Action Fund, a gay rights foundation in Denver. Pacific Gas & Electric also contributed $250,000.

 

Both sides said Thursday that they are on track to raise $10 million to $15 million each by Election Day. While $30 million would not be close to the record for the most money raised for a ballot initiative in California, it likely will fuel an active media campaign from Crescent City to Palm Springs, starting after Labor Day.

 

Across the country, same-sex marriage again could play into national politics this year, as it did in 2004 when constitutional bans were on the ballot in 11 states and passed in each of them. In November, same-sex marriage bans also will be on the ballot in Florida and Arizona, meaning about a quarter of the U.S.

 

population will be directly affected by marriage votes in November.

 

Proposition 8 "is about the California Constitution, but really it is about engaging conservatives inside and outside California, so they don't stay home in November because they're not enthusiastic about (John) McCain," said David McCuan, a professor of political science at Sonoma State University. "You use an issue like this to kind of stir up the votes in the pews."

 

Contact Mike Swift at mswift@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3648.