Thursday, June 07, 2012

Donors From LGBT-land


Trevor Thomas with supporter Jennifer Granholm

Tuesday CNN reported that LGBT donors are opening their wallets and purses for President Obama. There's an attractive picture of Neil Patrick Harris, Suze Orman, Ricky Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dustin Lance Black on the top of the report, "some of Obama's prominent LGBT supporters." Right on! I didn't vote for Obama that same day; I left the presidential primary ballot page for him blank. There were no other candidates on that page. If the only issue was gay rights, I probably would have voted for him. But it's not. As for donations... I gave big-- when he was an Illinois state Senator running for the U.S. Senate. But once I saw him in action nationally, the infatuation ended faster than it started. Neil Patrick Harris, Suze Orman, Ricky Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dustin Lance Black are entitled to their own ways of looking at it and to their own decisions. I sure wish, though, that gay donors-- and gay political organizations-- would loosen up a little when it comes candidates from the LGBT community.
After President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, a group organizing a fundraiser on his behalf suddenly had to find a bigger venue. The event, featuring the pop singer Pink, is one of two LGBT-organized fundraisers Obama is expected to attend on the West Coast on Wednesday.

A CNN analysis of President Obama's biggest fundraisers, known as bundlers, shows that at least 33-- or about one in every 16 bundlers-- is openly gay. Together, they have raised at least $8 million for the campaign between January and the end of March.

By contrast, in the same period, bundlers from the television, movie and music industry, some of whom attended a recent high-profile fundraiser hosted by actor George Clooney, raised $6.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

While campaign finance laws require donors to disclose their full names, addresses, occupations and employers, there is no box to check for sexual orientation. Nor does the law require candidates to release information about their bundlers. Under prodding from watchdog groups, presidential campaigns have released bundler data in past elections. Obama's campaign has released its list. Republican candidate Mitt Romney's campaign has not.

In CNN's analysis, only bundlers who have disclosed their orientation in past CNN reporting or in trusted LGBT publications were counted as gay. The Washington Post has reported that as many as one in six bundlers supporting Obama are gay. The Advocate Magazine estimates one in five.

Glancing down the names on the bundlers list released by the Obama campaign for the first quarter, it is easy to find people known for their work on behalf of the LGBT community.

Tim Gill, a software entrepreneur who runs a large Colorado-based foundation that backs gay rights projects, has already contributed $672,800 with his partner Scott Miller to the Obama for America campaign. Fred Eychaner, who owns the Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., has donated $1,220,550 so far.

He co-hosted a $35,800-per-person LGBT organized fundraiser for Obama in February. Kathy Levinson, the former president and CEO of the Menlo Park, California-based Etrade, gave $202,150. The LA Gay and Lesbian Center Women's Night named Levinson a "Community Role Model" in 2000. She was instrumental in raising money to stop the anti-same-sex marriage law in California.

Donations made after Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage May 9 won't be released until mid-June, when the campaign files its second-quarter reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Many LGBT bundlers have maintained a close relationship with the president throughout his first term. A state dinner in March was attended by bundlers Gill; Eychaner; Barry Karas, a former Human Rights Campaign board member; James (Wally) Brewster, senior vice president of General Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust that owns and operates shopping malls; Dana Perlman, a corporate lawyer who has served as co-chair of the Obama/DNC LGBT Leadership Council; Joseph Falk, a Miami mortgage broker and others.

...The LGBT community is such an important part of this president's re-election effort that the Obama for America campaign hosts a special section for it on its website. It includes a video discussing the president's support for LGBT issues narrated by actress Jane Lynch, who is openly gay. It also offers Obama merchandise like T-shirts and drink koozies to bring to Gay Pride events this summer.

The president has already attended several LGBT-organized fundraisers, including one in New York hosted by openly gay singer Ricky Martin, the Futuro Fund, and Obama for America LGBT Leadership Council.

Earlier today we took a look at the policy agenda that one of the country's only openly gay congressional candidates, Trevor Thomas, has just released. I'm sure I'm not the only gay person who contributed to Trevor's campaign against two virulent social conservatives, Democrat Steve Pestka and Republican Justin Amash. But big name or wealthy gay Democrats? I don't think so. And that's almost always the case. I remember how frustrating it was for another openly gay Democrat, Ed Potosnak (NJ) in 2010 and again for much of this cycle-- until he dropped out. He couldn't get any significant support from the LGBT community-- no seed money to get the bandwagon rolling. I've tried to help gay candidates with wealthy gays and national gay organizations. I always got the same answer: no. The LGBT organizations and rich donors want their "place at the table" and they get it by sticking with the Establishment and, generally speaking, backing Establishment candidates.

And what they tell gay insurgent candidates is basically this: "If you look like you're going to win, we'll jump on the bandwagon. Otherwise, don't bother us; we're too busy trying to make sure we get the cool invitations so we can act like we're players and keep our careers rolling." As for the big gay donors... isn't it so much cooler to be part of the "Obama team" than back some unknown gay person from some unknown House district somewhere? Gay or straight, you can contribute to Trevor Thomas' campaign-- before the DCCC or the insipid Victory Fund wakes up to it-- here at the Blue America ActBlue page.

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