Obama's Power Gays

By Michelle Garcia and Andrew Harmon

Originally published on Advocate.com October 24 2011 1:39 PM ET

On Monday, President Barack Obama is West Coast bound, where his schedule includes remarks on a new mortgage refinancing initiative and a meeting with homeowners in Las Vegas, the nation’s continued foreclosure capital. Also on the agenda are three campaign fund-raisers, including two in Los Angeles likely to draw LGBT donors — a burgeoning source of campaign cash for the president's reelection bid.

LGBT people now account for nearly one in five “bundlers” who have raised at least $500,000 for the Obama for America and Obama Victory Fund (a joint account for the presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee), according to recently released figures for the months of July, August, and September. LGBT-specific fund-raisers for the campaign are currently being planned for Chicago, Boston, Miami, and North Carolina.

“LGBT fundraising efforts are organized in a different way than in 2008,” says Jamie Citron, director of the Obama campaign’s LGBT Leadership Council and LGBT Vote. For 2012, “We grew our leadership to reflect the regional way that the Obama team has always fundraised, which means we have LGBT raisers working together to engage LGBTs across the nation, but also working within the leadership of their regional teams, doing good work in that way too.”

The list of major fund-raisers is a mix of behind-the-scenes players and public figures, including Chad Griffin, board president for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. “There’s no president in the history that has done more for LGBT people,” Griffin says of Obama. “We don’t have full federal equality, but we’re a hell of a lot closer than we were four years ago.” 

Here are 10 notable LGBT major fund-raisers for the Obama campaign as well is a list of known LGBT bundlers for Obama:

 
Laura Ricketts
Chicago

Amount raised (range): $100,000–$200,000
Occupation: CEO of Ecotravel.com; co-owner, Chicago Cubs
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (former Democratic Virginia governor, now running for retiring U.S.senator Jim Webb’s seat)

Ricketts became the first openly gay co-owner of a Major League Baseball team when her family bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field in 2009 from the Tribune Co. for $845 million (Ricketts’s father, J. Joseph Ricketts, is the founder of Omaha-based TD Ameritrade). A member of Lambda Legal's national leadership council, she lives with her partner, Heidi Grathouse, in Chicago. Last year, Ricketts gave birth to a daughter, the couple’s first child. "I came out to my family I would say early to mid 30s,” she told the Windy City Times in a 2010 interview. “I think for a long time I wasn't really out to myself growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, to a Catholic conservative family. ... I think that [coming out] really couldn't have been a better experience.”  

 

Michael S. Smith and James Costos
Los Angeles

Amount raised (range): $500,000+
Occupation: Smith is an interior designer; Costos is an HBO executive

Smith is the current White House decorator, lauded by first lady Michelle Obama for a “family friendly” sensibility that appears to simultaneously attract a Hollywood royalty/media mogul clientele: He has also worked with Steven Spielberg, Rupert Murdoch, Dustin Hoffman, and Michelle Pfeiffer, according to The Washington Post. Costos is vice president of licensing and retail at HBO, where an expansive stable of True Blood merchandise is under his purview, among other items tied to the network's programming. In June the couple hosted a fund-raiser for the campaign, attended by Mrs. Obama, at their Bel-Air home (featured here in Elle Décor).

Chad Griffin (pictured)
Los Angeles

Amount raised (range): $100,000–$200,000
Occupation: Political consultant/strategist
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

Griffin is cofounder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, launched in 2009 with the aim of overturning California’s Proposition 8 in court (Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 judgment striking down the ballot measure is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit). Just barely out of high school, Griffin worked in the Clinton administration’s West Wing under White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. His business partner, Kristina Schake, was tapped as Mrs. Obama’s communications director earlier this year.

“Contrasting this speech from two years ago, the president showed exactly what he has accomplished,” Griffin told this magazine following Obama’s keynote address earlier this month at the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner in Washington, D.C. “In 2009, he said, ‘I will repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I will sign hate crimes' — and today he had the opportunity to say that he has delivered.”
 

Sally Susman
New York

Amount raised (range): $500,000+
Occupation: Executive vice president of policy, external affairs, and communications at Pfizer Inc.
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

In addition to being in a top position at one of the world’s pharmaceutical giants, Susman serves as a commissioner on the New York City Commission on Women's Issues and is a board member for the Parsons School of Design and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Chad Griffin X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Andrew Tobias (pictured)
Miami

Amount raised (range): $500,000+
Occupation: Author; Democratic National Committee treasurer
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

Perhaps no one else in the Democratic Party is more persistent in pointing out the breadth and significance of Obama’s LGBT accomplishments than Tobias, who vigorously defends the president when other LGBT activists are less than adulatory of the administration, as he did in a 2009 op-ed for this magazine.

“Everybody agrees that we’ve made more progress at the federal level in the last two and half years than in the last 250 years combined,” Tobias told The Advocate in June. “At the same time, we all, including the president, want to see a lot more progress.”

 

Dana Perlman
Los Angeles

Amount raised (range): $500,000+ (raised with Barry Karas)
Occupation: Attorney, Perlman & Associates
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

A board member for the Human Rights Campaign, Perlman currently cochairs the search committee to replace HRC president Joe Solmonese, who will leave his position in March. Along with fund-raising partner Barry Karas, he is among several LGBT bundlers involved in building a strong gay Latino presence at the Futuro Fund event in Los Angeles Monday, hosted by Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas at their home in Hancock Park. (As LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick noted earlier this month, “The last time Obama attended a private-home event in the Hancock Park area, the multi-hour traffic snarls that resulted led to the coining of the term 'Obamajam.' ")

AndREW ANDY Tobias X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Kevin Jennings (pictured)
New York

Amount raised (range): $50,000–$100,000
Occupation: CEO, Be the Change Inc.

In 1988, Jennings was an adviser to the first gay-straight alliance at an American high school as a teacher at Concord Academy in Concord, Mass. He went on to become a champion of classroom equality as the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and later as assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools from 2009 until June. Jennings was a target of social conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, during his Education Department tenure, but said in a post-departure interview with Media Matters, “I wasn't going to be derailed from that work by a bunch of bullies and liars.”

 

Eugene Sepulveda

Austin

Amount raised (range): $500,000+
Occupation: CEO of Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Democratic National Committee

Through his organization, Sepulveda is an advocate for nonprofit and for-profit startups and small businesses. A recipient of the Human Rights Campaign’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Sepulveda is currently working on a fund-raising event in Houston with the first lady. (Note: A previous version of this story reported that the Houston event is LGBT-specific; it is a larger event for Mrs. Obama that will include LGBT fund-raising support.)

 

Charles Myers
New York

Amount raised (range): $500,000+
Occupation: Investment banker, Evercore Partners
Other political campaigns donated to this year: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

One of New York’s best-known Democratic bundlers may have his own congressional ambitions. “If you look at Congress, we currently have four openly gay members out of 535; it’s pretty clear that we’re massively underrepresented,” Myers told The New York Observer earlier this year, adding he’s “thinking about it” when asked if he may eventually enter the political fray.

Kevin Jennings x390 (fair grab) | ADVOCATE.COM

List of Obama campaign’s LGBT bundlers who have raised at least $50,000: 

 
$50,000–$100,000

Fred Eychaner
Paul Horning
Kevin Jennings
Greg McCurdy
Todd Sargent

$100,000–$200,000
James “Wally” Brewster and Bob Satawake
Joseph Falk
Chad Griffin
Henry Munoz
Bruce and Jim Murray
Laura Ricketts
Jeff Soref

$200,000–$500,000
Terry Bean
Kathy Levinson

$500,000+
Charles Myers
Dana Perlman and Barry Karas
Eugene Sepulveda
Michael Smith and James Costos
Sally Susman
Andrew Tobias
 

The full third-quarter bundler list from the Obama campaign is available here.