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Gay marriage debate draws intense lobbying in Massachusetts

Gay marriage debate draws intense lobbying in Massachusetts

For months the gay marriage debates in Massachusetts have attracted noisy rallies, a slew of radio and television ads, and advocates cornering lawmakers in Beacon Hill's hallways--all part of coordinated and costly lobbying efforts. How much is being spent isn't clear. Now Secretary of State William Galvin, worried that groups on either side of the gay marriage divide might be skirting the state's lobbying laws, is sending letters to more than a dozen organizations urging them to document their efforts to influence the debate. Galvin said he wants to make sure those groups--half of them based in Massachusetts and others as far away as Arizona and Colorado--keep track of any money spent on advertising, hiring lobbyists, or sending out mailings. "The public has a right to know who's spending money on this and where it's coming from," Galvin said. "We do know that there are quite a few organizations who don't normally lobby at the statehouse." Advocates on both sides say they have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the fight, but so far they haven't provided any specific dollar amounts on what their lobbying efforts have cost them. The groups will be required to file lobbying reports with the state on July 15. Under state law, any group that hires a lobbyist, contributes to a political candidate or committee, pays a salary to any member of the group to lobby, or spends $2,000 or more during any year must register with the secretary of state. Some groups have already begun reporting lobbying expenditures, including the two most vocal groups, the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus and the Massachusetts Family Institute. Beacon Hill is a hotbed of lobbying efforts in any year, but it has been particularly intense this year as lawmakers consider a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "It's exactly the same situation that happens in New Hampshire in the primaries," said Tobe Berkovitz, a Beacon Hill observer and communications professor at Boston University. "It's the big blip on the radar screen, and everyone is focusing all their political energy, money, and clout there. That's where Massachusetts is now." The Massachusetts legislature reconvenes its constitutional convention next week for up to three days of debate to consider, among competing amendments, a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage that would allow same-sex couples to join in civil unions. On Wednesday, house speaker Thomas Finneran and senate president Robert Travaglini sent a letter to legislators urging them to support their version of an amendment, which would define marriage as between a man and woman but give the same legal rights as marriage to same-sex couples who enter into civil unions. Last month supporters and opponents of gay marriage formed two political action committees to help elect candidates who back their positions. The outcome of the November election is particularly important because any gay marriage constitutional amendment must be approved by two successive legislatures before reaching voters on the November 2006 ballot. Josh Friedes, of the pro-gay marriage Freedom to Marry Coalition, formed one of the PACs. "We need to support candidates who support equality and make it clear to candidates who oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian people that there will be a price to be paid at the ballot box," he said. Friedes, who has registered as a lobbyist, said the coalition has already raised and spent about $250,000 this year and will aggressively raise funds to funnel to candidates through the newly formed PAC.

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