President Obama has been greeted with thunderous ovations and thousands of dollars in LGBT contributions since his May 9 announcement that he supports allowing same-sex couples to marry.
A Huffington Post offshoot, BuzzFeed.com, reported that “a Democrat” claimed $1 million poured into the Obama for America campaign within 90 minutes of President Obama’s interview saying he supports the rights of same-sex couples to marry. An unidentified campaign spokesman later told NPR that wasn’t true but “one source” said the surge in contributions was “astounding.”
Whatever the number of gay dollars tallied, the money was part of a $60 million haul for the re-election campaign in May.
During that same month, however, the coffers of Republican nominee Mitt Romney grew $76 million. It marked the first month in which the Romney camp out-raised the Obama camp.
Did Obama’s same-sex marriage support have any influence on that? Probably not.
A wide variety of independent surveys by news and polling groups showed the two major party candidates tied since the beginning of May—trading the lead but almost always within the margin of error.
And an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 registered voters May 16-20 found that 62 percent of registered voters surveyed said the two candidates’ positions on same-sex marriage —Obama for, Romney against— made no difference in their expected votes.
“When it comes to your decision to support Barack Obama, does his position favoring same-sex marriage reinforce the reason to support him, give you concern about supporting him, or really not make much difference either way?” asked the poll of those respondents who said they were leaning toward Obama. Sixty-two percent said it didn’t make much difference either way, 31 percent said it reinforced their support, and seven percent said it gave them some concern.
When the pollsters asked Romney supporters how the Republican’s position opposing same-sex marriage affected them, the responses were nearly the same: 59 percent said it didn’t matter, 32 percent said it reinforced their support, eight percent had concerns (and one percent was unsure).
An ABC-Washington Post poll of 1,004 adults May 17-20 found only one percent considered “gay marriage/gay rights” to be the “most important issue” in their choice for president. Ditto, a CNN poll of 1,009 adults May 29-31.
Still, gay money in the campaign has been getting a lot of attention. A CNN analysis published June 6 credited gay donors with raising at least $8 million for the Obama re-election campaign even before the president’s May 9 announcement. It said its analysis of Obama’s biggest donors showed “at least 33 — or about one in every 16 bundlers — is openly gay.”
A Washington Post article May 7 estimated one in six of Obama’s contribution bundlers were gay.
(The paper did not reveal how it came to that estimate, other than to say it reviewed donor lists, and, as CNN noted, Federal Election Commission rules do not require donors to indicate their sexual orientation. CNN said it based its estimate on “bundlers who have disclosed their orientation in past CNN reporting or in trusted LGBT publications were counted as gay.” CNN did not disclose which publications it relied on, but noted that openly gay software millionaire Tim Gill and his partner have contributed $672,800 to the Obama for America campaign, and Chicago Newsweb Corporation owner Fred Eychaner has contributed $1.2 million.)
OpenSecrets.org, an independent organization tracking the flow of campaign funding, posted a chart of 27 LGBT bundlers—13 of whom had raised more than $500,000 each.
Among those 13 were Sally Susman, an executive vice president at the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer; Joseph Falk, past president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers; James Costos, a vice president at HBO, and his partner, designer Michael Smith; Kathy Levinson, former president of E-Trade; and Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.
To put the bundlers’ role in perspective, the Human Rights Campaign political action committee reported that, through April 30, it had received contributions totaling $218,816. The national gay conservative group GOProud and the political action committee of Log Cabin Republicans show no money raised for campaign financing.
President Obama appeared before several high-profile, big-ticket LGBT fundraisers in the past few weeks.
On Wednesday (June 6), he spoke to a fundraiser sponsored by the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Leadership Council in Los Angeles. Then, he spoke to a fundraiser nearby at the private home of Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, a television series popular with many in the LGBT community.
An estimated 600 people attended the DNC-LGBT gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, paying somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 each. According to a White House pool reporter, the audience there gave President Obama a “prolonged standing ovation, chanting “Four more years!”
The more private reception at Glee creator Murphy’s cost the estimated 70 attendees $38,500 each.
According to the White House pool reporter, the president spoke for about 12 minutes then took questions but the reporter was not allowed to stay for the question-and-answer period. Although the pool reporter did not recognize anyone in the crowd, he said a campaign official told him it included actors Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, and Jane Lynch. It also included Jack Calhoun, the president of Banana Republic/Gap Inc., and Michael Lombardo, another HBO executive.
The two events were expected to raise several million dollars for the president’s re-election campaign.
“I could not be prouder of the work that we’ve done on behalf of the LGBT community,” said President Obama, in front of the DNC-LGBT Leadership Council gala. “From the work we did to facilitate hospital visitations to ending the HIV/AIDS ban, to the work we did to pass the Matthew Shepard law, to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” to all the administrative work that’s been done by agencies to make sure that folks are fully recognized is something that I’m personally very proud of.”
The DNC’s LGBT Leadership Council, founded in 2000, works to ensure the Democratic Party’s platform includes and respects the rights of LGBT Americans. At its gala last year in New York, some in the audience criticized President Obama for not endorsing passage of the then-pending legislation in the New York legislature to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The Leadership Council also held fundraiser for Obama in New York last month, with entertainer Ricky Martin as host. That fundraiser sold out after President Obama gave his interview in support of same-sex marriage, according to OpenSecrets.org.
But whatever millions the LGBT community has chipped into the Obama re-election coffers, it pales in contrast to the money piling up on Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s side.
Politico.com reported last month that Republican political strategist Karl Rove and allies have promised to raise $1 billion in pro-Romney communications.
They are aided in large part by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In that decision, a split court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from limiting how much corporations and unions can spend on “electioneering communications.”
Through so-called “Super PACs,” corporations quickly began pouring money into such communications to support pro-corporate candidates. One prominent pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, reported raising more than $26 million through April 30, compared to the $4.7 million raised by the prominent pro-Obama super PAC “Priorities USA Action.”
One prominent donor to the pro-Romney super PAC was Paul Singer, a billionaire investor whose son is gay. Ironically, the New York Times reported last weekend that Singer has also just announced forming his own super PAC—the American Unity PAC—with plans to direct $1 million toward Republicans who support same-sex marriage.
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