The Money Game: The Race for No on 8

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com September 24 2008 12:00 AM ET

Brad Pitt and
Steven Spielberg aren’t gay, but their financial
support for the effort to defeat California’s
Proposition 8 has made them two of the highest-profile
donors in the fight to keep same-sex marriage legal in
the Golden State. Last week Pitt donated $100,000 to the No
on 8 campaign, which seeks to defeat a state
constitutional amendment going before voters in
November that would overturn a recent state supreme
court decision legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in
California. Then Monday director Spielberg and his
wife, Kate Capshaw, followed Pitt’s lead and
announced their own $100,000 pledge to No on 8.

“These
gifts are significant and hopefully will result in
additional contributions and greater
awareness,” said Geoff Kors, the executive
director of LGBT rights group Equality California and a
leading figure behind No on 8. But the two donations
are relative drops in the bucket, considering
opponents and supporters of legalized same-sex marriage are
expected to raise well over $30 million by Election Day.

Kors notes LGBT
activists are in an “unprecedented situation”
with this fight, since they are working to protect
rights their opponents are trying to eliminate.
“We need to reach out and get more people to
give,” Kors said, noting donors have generally
been very responsive. “We need a lot more
gifts, small, medium, and large. It’s going well
but not keeping pace with the other side.”

As of Tuesday,
supporters of Proposition 8 have raised nearly $18
million, compared to the just over $12 million raised by
Prop 8 opponents, according to the Los Angeles
Times.
But Steve Smith, a political consultant who
is working with Kors and the No on 8 campaign, argues
that “the disparity is not quite that
significant” since it “literally changes every
day.”

“We were
ahead most of the summer,” Smith explained about his
side’s fund-raising. “They’ve
been ahead only the last three weeks.” Smith and
Kors chalk up the surge in Yes on 8 funding to a major
infusion of cash directly and indirectly from the
Mormon Church, plus a big donation from the
conservative Catholic group the Knights of Columbus.

“Now they
have slowed down a little bit and we have begun to pick back
up,” Smith said. “By the end it will be very
close dollar to dollar.”

A donation by
someone like Pitt brings more than the monetary amount,
Smith explained. “It’s a couple of things, but
obviously the money helps,” he said.
“This is such an expensive state. These kinds of
contributions get reported on hard-news programs but also
soft-news programs."

By soft news,
Smith means media outlets like Entertainment Tonight,Access Hollywood, and E! Online, which all
reported on Pitt’s donation to No on 8, a political
subject they normally wouldn’t discuss.

“When it
gets reported on Entertainment Tonight or CBS 5
or whatever it is, you get the reporting and messaging
around that, so you get a triple hit,” he said.
“It’s worth three times as much,
essentially.”

For his part,
Smith is not concerned that Pitt and Spielberg’s
donations will make his campaign look too elitist or
out of touch to everyday California voters. “If
our message was, ‘Vote no because Brad Pitt is
voting no,’ that would be different,” Smith
said. “But just that he’s donated money,
I don’t think you’re going to see a negative
pushback.”

And instead of
elitism, a follow-up donation from someone like a
Spielberg creates its own kind of momentum, even if there
are some other costs, Smith said.

“It
isn’t so much Brad Pitt by himself, not so much
Steven Spielberg by himself, but the
combination,” he said. “When the first one
dropped that was significant, but now that Spielberg
has done it, now it becomes a bit of a
movement.”

But the trade off
comes in a slowdown in all that free media. “It
won’t get reported as much,” he said.
“It gets less interesting.”

Numbers on a
fund-raising tote board will not decide success, Kors said.
He notes that while supporters of Proposition 8 have booked
more media time, his side has already gotten TV ads on
the air, including a new ad featuring parents of a
lesbian couple that began running this week.
“We’ve been more strategic in how we spent our
money,” he said.

The basics of the
proposition system in California suggest the momentum
is with the marriage equality side, said Rick Jacobs, the
founder and chair of Courage Campaign, an online
progressive advocacy organization based in California
that is part of the No on 8 coalition.

“In this
state the rule of thumb is in order to win the ballot
initiative, you have to poll at 60% or better when it first
starts,” Jacobs said, noting that it is optimal
to get that 60% yes vote in August. “It
didn’t and it never has,” he said, explaining
that most polls have shown an even race or a majority
favoring a no vote. “The reality is it is much
easier to get a no than a yes, and you can spend less money
and get a no than get a yes.”

Allan Hoffenblum,
a veteran Los Angeles-based political analyst who
publishes the California Target Book (which analyzes
electoral contests), said the Yes on 8 camp will have
to change minds since there is high public awareness
for Proposition 8 compared to other initiatives on the
November ballot.

“They have
to change people’s minds,” Hoffenblum said of
the Yes on 8 campaign. “They have to switch
votes, and that is extremely difficult to do. In
normal campaigns you get your base vote and then you go
after to persuade the undecided. If current polls are
correct, that is insufficient.”

But with many
California voters just starting to pay attention to the
November ballot initiatives, Kors said No on 8 continues to
fund-raise and is spending money as soon as it comes
in the door.

“Being on
television for a week in California costs millions of
dollars,” he said. “We will continue
raising money up until the election. Door hangers are
produced based on what money we have. The sooner we have it,
the better we can plan.”

Smith noted that
No on 8’s most recent TV ad served not only to get
the message out to voters but led to a jump in online
contributions. “On the Internet we raised a
couple hundred thousand in a couple of hours,” he
said.

The biggest
concern for Smith is not fighting the perception of elitism
or even keeping pace on funding. He’s worried that
voters may get confused over the fact that a no vote
is actually a vote for marriage equality.
“People are confusing yes for no and no for
yes,” he said. “Don’t eliminate
the right to marry, so vote no. It’s a logical kind
of confusion. Double negatives do funny things in your
head.”