The nation's economic crisis is causing grave concern among LGBT activists fighting Prop 8, the initiative on the California ballot this November that would overturn the right of same sex couples to marry.
"With the economy in so much trouble, we are concerned about the impact on our fundraising since so much money is coming from small donors," says Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California (EQCA) and a leader in the No on 8/Equality for All coalition. "It will take an extraordinary effort by all of the organizations and donors in order for us to fully fund the campaign."
A rally Saturday at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Village at Ed Gould Plaza stressed the need for volunteers and money for No on 8 commercials. Center CEO Lorri Jean told a crowd of about 100 that more money than ever has been raised in the history of a fight against an antigay initiative - $11 million. But supporters of Prop 8 have raised more - $16 million and "we have to do a lot of heavy lifting."
California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both of whom may run for governor in 2010, spoke at the rally.
Garamendi told the crowd that California is a state that values full equality. He told a story of how a "crusty old rancher" approached him and said, "I just don't get it. No g-damn government is going to tell us how to live our lives. We all have the right to marry. I'm going to vote No on Prop 8."
Equality for all, Garamendi said, "is a message for all Californians" and "it's time to end the kind of foolishness we've seen for the last eight years." Pledging to contribute some of his own money, Garmanedi told the crowd that it is important "to dig deep" and "see that Prop 8 goes down to defeat."
Villaraigosa, whom Lorri Jean noted stood with the LGBT community "long before the public polls and the courts," also stressed the importance of full equality.
"This city stands for the idea that when one of us is denied civil human rights, we are all denied those human rights....Marrying the person you love is basic to who we are. [Those who oppose marriage equality] reflect a different era. But the hands of time only go forward....So the idea that same sex couples can't marry - it's ludicrous. It's a throwback to an era of hatred and divisiveness....The entire city will come behind the effort to defeat Prop 8. We're on the right side of history....The government can't interfere with the fundamental right of happiness....[The people behind Prop 8] are all about the culture wars that divide us...[putting] on the head of a pin all the things that make us different."
And, Villaraigosa said, "I've got a whole list of people I'll be calling to raise money for [fighting] Prop. 8."
Despite upcoming No on 8 celebrity fundraisers and the very public contributions from straight actor Brad Pitt, who donated $100,000 as a "challenge" to the entertainment community, WordPerfect founder Bruce Bastian's $1 million (made through the Human Rights Campaign, which has contributed an additional estimated $1.5 million) and GeoCities founder David Bohnett's $600,000, most of the money given to the fight against the measure has come from small donors, according to a review of the political action committees listed on the California Secretary of State's website. EQCA, which has an annual budget of $1.5 million, is the largest overall contributor, having raised around $4.5 million to fight the measure.
As of Sept. 19, Kors estimates that the No on 8 campaign has raised an estimated $11 million, compared to an estimated $18 million raised by the antigay Yes on 8 campaign.
To date, the Knights of Columbus is the single largest contributor supporting passage of the constitutional amendment, giving $1,275,000 to Yes on 8, with the National Organization for Marriage giving over $941,000, according to Californians Against Hate, which is monitoring Yes on 8 contributions. Their largest single donor so far is John Templeton, Chairman and President of the John Templeton Foundation, who has contributed $900,000. Proponents of the initiative also have a vast network of socially conservative churches promising to contribute.
Though final tallies of all donors will not be made public until the end of October, the No on 8 campaign and Californians Against Hate both tracked an influx of funds to the Yes on 8 campaign immediately after the announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain's vice presidential running mate on the Republican ticket. From Sept. 1 to Sept. 10, the Yes on 8 campaign raised $5 million in mostly $1000 contributions.
Kors is also concerned that contributors might become complacent after looking at the latest Field Poll which indicates that 55% of likely voters oppose Prop 8, while only 38% support it.
"The Field Poll is encouraging. However, we know from other states that many, many people -- as high as 12% in one election -- who intend to vote for antigay measures often do not tell pollsters their true intention. Add that to the 10% undecided, and the lead shown in the poll would be more than wiped away. With the other side launching on unprecedented ad campaign, we cannot rest for one minute or we risk losing this election and having our right to marry eliminated by the voters."
Yes on 8 supporters concur that the swing voters matter. Karen England, campaign manager for Yes on Prop. 8, said in an email solicitation:
"Polls can be skewed, depending upon how questions are phrased, and we know that polling for marriage amendments historically underreport the level of true support...There are still a significant number of undecided voters in this race. It is our job to educate and inform these voters about the consequences of destroying traditional marriage...Our nation depends upon our commitment and activism."
As of Sept. 15, the names of LGBT celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell and Melissa Etheridge - who have all been very public about their relationship - have not appeared on any No on 8 PACs on the Secretary of State's website. Additionally, DeGeneres and new wife Portia de Rossi are slated to throw a celebrity-filled fundraiser for Yes on Prop 2 - another initiative supporting animal rights.
(Some people argue that what Ellen has done on her show and her wedding on the cover of People magazine has done more for marriage equality than a simple monetary donation. Similar arguments could be made for Melissa and Rosie.)
"We were thrilled when Ellen's Mom made a donation in honor of Ellen and Portia's wedding and offered to send an email to EQCA members asking them to join her. Ellen's discussion of their marriage on her show and her visibility on this will have a tremendous impact this November. Ellen's singular ability to move people on this issue, and her continued willingness to use that ability, is truly appreciated."
But, adds West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran, who is also well known for his fundraising prowess as president of the board of Equality California - "To those who are given much, much is expected" - quoting an old Hebrew proverb.
Political strategist Chad Griffin was instrumental in encouraging Brad Pitt, with whom he has worked on other political campaigns, to donate to the
Californians Against Discrimination - No on 8 PAC set up by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Hererra to encourage the straight community to contribute.
"This is the first time our constitution is being used to eliminate a right of a minority. We have to defeat Prop. 8 in order to prevent a small group of [antigay] activists from changing the California Constitution to eliminate a right the Supreme Court said is a fundamental right for all people. It is so important to win here to set an example for other states and he nation on this issue. So many people would be impacted negatively were this initiative to pass - It's one of the most important battles in this country.
We can win - but we have to really match their funding and small groups fo out of state and some in state have made this a priority and are spending significant amounts of money. For someone like Brad Pitt - who is not a member of our community but is a great ally and understands our issues- to make such a generous contribution sets an example for the entertainment industry to follow."
In fact, Griffin says, a big push is coming up, led by Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen and John Gile, former executive director for Project Angel Food. Next Thursday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Hererra will be the honored guests at a fundraiser in New York City. And in mid-October, straight billionaire businessman Ron Burkle will host a high-powered celebrity fundraiser at his famous Beverly Hills estate, Green Acres. (Information is on the No on 8 - Californians Against Eliminating Basic Rights website.)