Maine Marriage Equality Coalition Outpaces Opponents in Fund-raising

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com July 26 2012 5:41 PM ET

Mainers United for Marriage, the coalition working to pass marriage equality in a statewide referendum this fall, has raised nearly 25 times the amount reported by opponents, a figure that includes a sizable donation from Paul Singer, a top Republican fund-raiser.

Figures released Wednesday showed that several political action committees had funneled over $1.1 million to the coalition, with $598,000 raised in the most recent reporting period from May 30 to July 17, according to the Portland Press Herald. By contrast, marriage equality opponents have raised a total of $42,311 so far, with $30,871 reported by the lead opposition PAC, Protect Marriage Maine.

Voters will decide this November whether to reinstate the marriage equality law that was overturned in a public referendum in 2009. If the referendum receives a majority “yes” vote, Maine will become the first state to pass an initiative introduced by marriage equality supporters. Marriage equality has a long losing streak at the ballot box, but advocates hope to change that record this year, with votes also pending in Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

The Maine Secretary of State released the final wording for the ballot question on Thursday. It reads, “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” The question previously read, “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Proponents disagreed with that wording because it gave no indication that the initiative was limited to civil marriage.

According to the coalition, most of the financial support for the campaign comes from inside Maine. Some 7,621 donors have contributed, about two-thirds of them from the state, and 84% of the contributions have been for $50 or less.

“Our strong fundraising shows the growing support for allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, in a statement. “The grassroots support for the campaign is incredible and mirrors the positive conversations we’re having as volunteers talk to their friends and neighbors all over Maine.”

The campaign has also received support from outside the state, where the Freedom to Marry Maine PAC has contributed a total of $285,065, including a $150,000 donation from Singer on July 15. The billionaire hedge fund manager raised a significant chunk for the campaign to pass legislation in New York last year, and he recently provided $1 million to launch American Unity PAC, a super PAC dedicated to backing Republicans who support marriage equality.

Singer, whose gay son and son-in-law married in Massachusetts in 2009, has given nearly $10 million to gay rights causes. He is also a top donor to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, having given $1 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC. This month, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that employees of Elliot Management Corp., the hedge fund Singer founded, were the third most generous to Romney Victory, the joint fund-raising committee for the candidate and the Republican Party.

Romney opposes marriage equality and has promised to support a federal constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. In rare public comments this spring, Singer told an audience of senior Wall Street leaders at the Out on the Street conference that he was not worried about the candidate’s position on LGBT rights.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a harsh environment in a Romney administration,” he said. “It’s a process if Mitt Romney is elected. It’s a process of pressure, education.”

The coalition in Maine has also partnered with local Republicans to announce the formation of Republicans United for Marriage this week. In addition, Tim Gill, founder of the Gill Action Fund, which is known for its bipartisan approach, said Thursday that he would match, dollar-for-dollar, every donation to the coalition through August 10, up to $100,000 in honor of the final 100 days of the campaign.

“I believe Maine is well-positioned to make history this November,” he said. “That’s why I’m investing in this campaign early when contributions can have their greatest impact. There’s a lot of work left to do, but I think Maine has a clear path to victory if others join me in helping them secure the resources they need to win today.”Gill is the founder of the Gill Action Fund, which is dedicated to advancing numerous social justice and equality issues, including the freedom to marry.”

A poll last month from the Press Herald showed that voters favor the referendum by 57% to 35% statewide. The initiative to repeal the marriage equality law passed in 2009 by 53% to 47%.

The coalition is prepared for a tough fight, however. According to the Associated Press, the National Organization for Marriage donated more than $2 million to help opponents of marriage equality three years ago, and the group has promised to be active in Maine again this year. Mainers United for Marriage expects to raise around $5 million by the time the campaign concludes.

“This is a good report, but we know that we have a lot more to do between now and November,” said McTighe in the statement about the coalition’s latest fund-raising.