The Gay Goodfellas

Inside the Gill Action Fund, the most effective pro-gay political weapon you never heard of.

BY Kerry Eleveld

June 19 2008 12:00 AM ET

Patrick Guerriero
and Bill Smith of the Gill Action Fund have a problem.
Guerriero, former leader of the Log Cabin Republicans and
onetime candidate for lieutenant governor of
Massachusetts, and Smith, a political consultant and
former employee of Karl Rove, want LGBT people to
understand their strategy for winning equal rights -- a
targeted approach to developing what they call
“fair-minded majorities” in state
legislatures across the country. During the 2006 election,
the first cycle in which the organization set its
sights on state legislative races, control of 13 state
chambers switched hands. Ten were Democratic takeovers
-- chambers that are now more likely to make gay-friendly
decisions.

Smith and
Guerriero want to get that story out, yes, but they
don’t want Gill Action to be a centerpiece of
the article, nor do they want any of its internal or
external machinations to be revealed. No focusing on Gill
Action’s founder, Tim Gill, a self-made millionaire
who by all accounts is exceedingly modest and usually
ducks the press at all costs. No naming any of the
state legislators the organization helped to elect in 2006,
lest those candidates find themselves in the cross hairs of
the Christian right in the next election. They
won’t disclose the states they worked in during
the last election cycle, and in terms of 2008,
they’re willing to discuss only two states in
which they will be active: Florida, where Gill Action
will be playing defense against a constitutional marriage
amendment; and Massachusetts, where they will be helping to
reelect Democratic and Republican legislators who had
voted to protect the state’s same-sex marriage
law. And although I can talk to one of their donors, I
can’t name that person in print. Any breach of
confidentiality there might scare off future donors
or, perhaps worse, let the opposition know where Gill
will strike next.

Essentially,
Guerriero and Smith want to turn their face to the sunlight
ever so briefly, then retreat to the shadowy world of
politics to work in virtual anonymity -- developing a
hit list of the community’s worst enemies,
identifying our best friends, and doing whatever has to be
done to get the next hate-crimes bill passed or
constitutional amendment killed at the state level.

As a journalist,
I felt like they were tying both hands behind my back
and smashing my recorder. It would be nearly impossible to
verify just how much of an impact they were really
having. These were the good guys, I reminded myself,
forced to use the same brass-knuckle tactics pioneered
by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove. And who better
to take the weapons Rove and Gingrich deployed against
LGBT people -- and train them back on conservatives --
than a couple guys who came up through the GOP ranks?

Gill Action, in
my estimation, bears some resemblance to GOPAC, the
political action committee Gingrich wielded to obtain the
GOP’s landslide victories in 1994, when --
along with taking control of the U.S. House of
Representatives for the first time in four decades --
Republicans stormed state legislatures to seize power
in 18 chambers. In the 2006 election, by its own
account, Gill Action’s nationwide donor base directed
some $2.8 million to 68 candidates across 11 states.
And 56 of those candidates won -- presumably knocking
out 56 other candidates who weren’t so friendly
with the gays.

Gill Action
isn’t the financial juggernaut that GOPAC was, nor
does it have the sweeping ideological agenda of
Gingrich’s Contract With America. But
Gill’s emphasis on growing power from the bottom up
-- planting one school board member or city council
person at a time until Congress is eventually overrun
by politicians who support LGBT rights -- is
strikingly similar to the way GOPAC helped create a Congress
full of pols who had been vetted by the Christian
right before rising up through the GOP ranks. It was
Gingrich’s revolution that laid a foundation for the
Rovian politics of fear that has locked gays out of
relationship recognition at the state level nearly
across the country.

In the course of
my conversation with Guerriero and Smith, I hesitatingly
offer up the Newt analogy, thinking that few self-respecting
LGBT activists -- of Republican persuasion or not --
would welcome the comparison. Instead, Smith and
Guerriero flash a glance at each other. Far from
drawing a distinction, Smith offers, “We’re
not afraid to learn from anyone across the political
spectrum who’s doing really smart work, be it
EMILY’s List or GOPAC.” Sure, you could call
these guys activists, but what Smith just gave me is
neither gay nor straight. It’s the response of
a political operative.

THE PIPELINE

Marilyn Musgrave,
Colorado congresswoman and child of the Gingrich
revolution, cut her teeth in elective office as a school
board member in 1991 focusing on abstinence-only
education. She graduated to the Colorado state house
and senate before winning her U.S. congressional bid in
2002. Two years later she authored and introduced the
first Federal Marriage Amendment.

Representative
Musgrave has since survived two takedown attempts by Tim
Gill and several other progressive millionaires who threw
millions in negative advertising at her races in 2004
and 2006. (One ad famously depicted an actress dressed
like Musgrave stealing a watch from a corpse in an
open casket -- a direct jab at her vote to tax funeral homes
in the state.) The attacks have taken their toll, and
Colorado politicians have taken note:
Musgrave’s margin of victory in the last election
shrank to just over two percentage points in the
highly conservative fourth district, where voters
should wholeheartedly embrace her ideology.

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