Reuters: Major Anti-Gay Marriage Group in Financial Straits
A recent Reuters article exposes the financial cracks in ProtectMarriage.com, an anti-marriage equality group that is defending Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court. According to the news agency, the organization is in deep debt and is struggling to raise money to fight that case and to pay off other debts it has accumulated.
ProtectMarriage.com "showed a $2 million deficit in its legal fund at the end of 2011, the third year in a row that expenses exceeded donations, federal tax records show," the article says. ProjectMarriage.com has been spearheading the court fight to overturn a federal appeals court judge who ruled that the referendum, passed by California voters in 2008 to ban same-sex marriages in California, was not valid.
Although records from last year are not yet available, Andrew Pungo, an attorney for the group, told Reuters that it has paid off its 2011 debt but is still $700,000 short in fundraising for its Supreme Court costs.
"Unless the pace of donations starts to pick up right away, we could soon be forced over a financial cliff," ProtectMarriage.com said in an email solicitation to donors earlier this month. Despite this, Charles Cooper, ProtectMarriage.com's lead outside counsel, still continues to work on the Supreme Court case but would not reveal how much he was getting paid for his efforts.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to review both Proposition 8 and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, in March. Many expect a ruling by the end of June. The one thing both sides agree on is that the ruling, whichever way it goes, will be historic.
Change in Attitudes Reflected in Donations
The group's financial difficulties may provide a mirror to the sea change that the American public in general has undergone. Poll after poll shows that America's opinion on same-sex marriage has dramatically changed within the past year, as proven by four states -- only one of them (Maryland) solid blue -- having passed measures to legalize gay marriage last November; and another (Iowa) voting to retain a judge who brought same-sex marriage to the heartland.
Reuters notes in its story on ProtectMarriage.com that while fundraising for both sides is critical, defending traditional marriage has become a "potentially grueling, expensive proposition."
Pugno himself apparently agrees. He told the publication that fundraising for ProtectMarriage.com has been a struggle. He declined, however, to blame changing attitudes towards marriage equality as the problem.
"I don't detect a decrease in enthusiasm," he said. "What I detect is a certain degree of fatigue after having to essentially fight this issue non-stop since 2004, when the mayor in San Francisco started issuing marriage licenses."
Pugno was referring to then-Mayor (now Lieutenant Gov.) Gavin Newsom, who started the whole marriage controversy that ultimately led to Prop. 8 when he advocated same-sex couples being allowed to tie the knot and married several of them at City Hall. The move in 2004 was still quite controversial (even in the Golden State): A Pew Research Center poll shows that the public opposed marriage equality, by 60 to 31 percent.
"The fund-raising fall-off is a result of donor fatigue, the dramatic rise in public support for gay marriage and the softening of some major gay marriage opponents, including the Mormon Church, people involved with the campaigns say," the article reads. "Both individuals and institutions opposed to gay marriage say many are fearful of being associated with the cause."
The Church of Latter-Day Saints received a public grilling when it came out that it was the largest supporter of Prop. 8. Since then, the Mormon Church has apparently decided that the controversy wasn't worth it.
Washington State, where same-sex marriage was legalized in November, shows how much the tide has turned. Those who opposed gay marriage raised just $2.8 million but were wildly overspent by marriage-equality supporters, who managed to raise $12.6 million from private donations like a seven-figure check from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and corporations like Starbucks. Just a few years before, in 2008, ProtectMarriage.com was able to raise $40 million during the electoral battle over California’s Proposition 8.
ProtectMarriage.com and other organizations bent on seeing gay marriage banned across the country are running up against a sector that once might have been at least neutral: big business. The Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal includes Fortune 500 heavy hitters like Marriott International Inc. (owned, incidentally, by a Mormon group), Aetna, eBay and Thomson Reuters.
Not all corporations are fighting to protect the rights of the LGBT community, of course. But the ones that where executives publicly support "traditional" marriage are few and far between. When the head of Chick-fil-A, the Georgia-based fast food franchise, spoke about how gay marriage would provoke God’s judgment on America, the consequent media firestorm last summer provided some good business on a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," but the CEO has since been reluctant to venture into the marriage debate since.
According to Equality Matters, a number of media outlets are reporting that the restaurant franchise owner continues to donate to anti-gay groups, however. Initially, Shane Windmeyer, the executive director of LGBT youth advocacy group Campus Pride, wrote in the Huffington Post that he had believed that the WinShape Foundation, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, stopped donating millions of dollars to the groups after he saw the organization’s 2011 IRS 990 tax form. In a follow-up article in the Advocate, however, it was alleged that Chick-fil-A officials of deceiving Windmeyer. True, giving had stopped to Exodus International and the Family Research Council. But the fast food chain is apparently still donating millions to the Marriage and Family Foundation, the National Christian Foundation and the Fellowship of Christina Athletes, all same-sex marriage opponents
In 2010, Chick-fil-A donated $2,000 to Exodus International and Family Research Council, which accounted for less than 1 percent of its total anti-gay donations, according to Equality Matters.
High Pay for Marriage Foe
Not all anti-gay marriage groups are financially suffering, at least judging from what they’re paying their top executives. Gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger demanded to see the National Organization for Marriage’s 2011 tax filings. He claims he discovered that the group’s president, Brian Brown, paid himself more than $500,000 that year.
"One thing is crystal clear; NOM president Brian Brown and former president Maggie Gallagher are definitely getting rich off the NOM donors - very rich," Karger said in a press release. "Maybe they don’t want us to know that NOM President Brian Brown made over $500,000 dollars in 2011. He was paid $230,000 by NOM’s political operation where he claimed to work a minimum of 40 hours per week, and another whopping $230,000 from NOM’s Educational Fund, where he claimed to work another 40 hours per week. Add $47,000 in benefits and you have the ’Half Million Dollar Man.’"