Individual Donors Fueling Fight Against Amendment One

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com May 01 2012 7:34 PM ET

Exactly one week before voters in North Carolina will decide Amendment One, a draconian measure that would bar marriage rights and all other forms of relationship recognition for same-sex couples reports filed to North Carolina’s State Board of Elections show that the Coalition to Protect NC Families, which opposes the amendment, has raised $2.3 million to date, with first-quarter expenditures this year of $1.8 million and $294,000 cash on hand. Individual contributors have donated $1.4 million, with $368,000 in contributions from non-profits. (WRAL has crunched the numbers on major donors, click here for more info.)

Vote for Marriage NC, the coalition working to pass Amendment One, has raised a total of $1.2 million, with $1.1 million in first-quarter expenditures and $121,000 cash on hand. Individual contributors have donated $311,000, compared to $852,000 from non-profits, a near a near reverse of the giving pattern to Amendment One opponents.

The single biggest individual donor to the campaign against Amendment One is gay philanthropist and Arcus Foundation founder Jon Stryker, who donated $200,000. The Human Rights Campaign has contributed $246,000. Other top donors include the North Carolina dinnerware business Replacements Ltd., Blueprint NC, the nonprofit Center for Community Self Help, and five individual donors led by straight philanthropist Todd Steifel, who offered a $100,000 matching contribution.

Donations in support of Amendment One are led by the Christian Action League, which gave $310,000, followed by the National Organization for Marriage at $303,000. Phil Drake, founder and chairman of Drake Enterprises, which owns Drake Software, a specialist in tax preparation software, contributed $250,000. Other top donors include the NC Values Coalition, which gave $56,000, the Roman Catholic dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh, which gave $50,000 each, the American Family Association, the Bayleaf Baptist Church, and the First Baptist Church in Charlotte.

In an e-mail to supporters on Tuesday, the Coalition to Protect NC Families pitched their campaign as a battle of “you versus the special interests,” where it said Amendment One supporters have raised less than one quarter of their contributions from individuals. By comparison, the pro-LGBT coalition working to defeat the amendment said it has received contributions from nearly 10,000 donors, with 75% of the money coming from North Carolina.

Last week, the coalition repeated the urgent need for more national donors to contribute larger amounts. The latest fund-raising report indicates the Democratic National Committee, which is holding its nominating convention in Charlotte this September, has not answered a request for a “sizable” contribution. An Obama campaign official in North Carolina released a March statement opposing the amendment, and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz expressed her opposition this past weekend. Fund-raising reports show that Andrew Tobias, the gay DNC treasurer, made an individual contribution of $1,000.

Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the anti-Amendment One coalition, said he maintained hope that the DNC and other large organizations would offer help to defeat the antigay initiative in the final days.

"I am disappointed, because I believe a commitment of resources to North Carolina is right in line with the statements of support we have heard from the President and Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” he said. “Especially in the state that will hold the Democratic Nation Convention, I believe it is all the more important for the DNC to be fully invested in a win in North Carolina - which means a fully funded campaign.”

Many leading LGBT political donors active in other state campaigns, including the Gill Action Fund, also appear to have declined to make contributions in North Carolina. Kennedy urged them to be mindful of the progress advocates have made in the state, and to consider that their last-minute commitment of resources “could mean the difference between a victory and a loss” in the only Southern state without a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Gill Action executive director Kirk Fordham wrote in an e-mail response on the North Carolina amendment battle, "Gill Action refrains from publicly commenting on strategic decisions to directly or independently engage in campaigns that are currently underway. Since its inception, Gill Action has invested in a wide range of initiatives to advance LGBT nondiscrimination, safe schools and marriage equality laws. That commitment remains as strong as ever."

Freedom to Marry, which has been instrumental in several marriage equality battles over the past year, previously decided not to invest in the North Carolina effort as part of its $3-million Win More States Fund, which focuses instead on states such as Minnesota, Washington, and Maine.

Strong backing from institutions, as opposed to one-time contributions from individuals, could prove pivotal in the final week before the vote on May 8. Both camps are vying for airtime statewide, with Protect NC Families currently running four ads — three on television and one online — that focus on the “unintended consequences” of the broad and vaguely worded amendment. Opponents of the measure and many legal experts say it would also ban civil unions, and could eliminate protections for domestic violence survivors who are not married to their attackers. Amendment One’s supporters have denied those claims in their own ads.

Amendment One opponents believe their broader messaging can persuade voters, many of whom remain confused about the full extent of the measure, according to recent polls.

A Public Policy Polling survey last Tuesday found support for Amendment One at an all-time low and opposition at its highest yet, with 54% of voters in favor and 40% opposed. While the campaign to defeat the measure appears to remain an uphill battle, when survey respondents in the PPP poll were informed that the ballot measure would prevent same-sex marriage as well as other forms of relationship recognition such as civil unions, support decreased to 38% and opposition increased to 46%. The poll does not reflect the effects of advertisements, which launched last Monday.

Kennedy said his coalition wants to raise an additional $450,000 in the final week to keep ads on the air in all of North Carolina’s six media markets. The rest of their resources and energy will be dedicated to the crucial get-out-the-vote effort.

“We must make sure that our supporters get to the polls,” he said. “We are relying on an aggressive field effort with a large team of staff and volunteers across the state- knocking on doors and making phone call. We are relying heavily on our paid communications, like our TV ads and our online presence to continue to get our message out to undecided voters and those than can be persuaded to vote against.”

Additional reporting provided by Andrew Harmon.

A previous version of this story identified Kirk Fordham as the executive director of the Gill Foundation. He is the executive director of Gill Action, a separate entity.