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Marriage Equality

The Money Game:
The Race for No on 8

The Money Game:
The Race for No on 8


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. As No on 8 struggles to catch up to the "Yes" campaign in fund-raising, the publicity and awareness generated by the likes of Pitt and Spielberg may well be worth more than any sum of money.

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."

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