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Gay Couples Asking for Political Donations

June 21, 2008

Scot Hammond and Seth Lawrence have already had five commitment ceremonies or weddings during their 14 years together. The last thing they need is another blender.

So instead of registering their July 6 wedding at a department store, the San Francisco couple entered their names in the wedding registry on the Equality California Web site, asking wedding guests and friends to make a political donation to support gay marriage instead of buying them a wedding gift.

Joshua Baker has never been involved with political fundraising before. But after gay marriage became legal in California this week, he fired off a round of e-mails from his new personal fundraising Web site, asking friends and family to donate money to support the campaign for a constitutional ban on gay marriage in California.

Leading up to a November ballot vote, the fight over gay marriage is expected to be a passionate — and a very expensive — political campaign. Just as Barack Obama’s campaign shattered fundraising records and changed the dynamics of political fundraising by finding new ways to weave supporters together through the Web, organizations on both sides of the gay marriage battle are rapidly adapting the Internet to raise money for big media buys this fall.

Both sides say they are in a fundraising arms race with an opponent with “deep pockets,” and they vow to match the other side’s fundraising, even if the totals reach $15 million or more. Each says the Internet

will be a key weapon.

“Grass-roots campaigns work on the Internet when you have passionate support, and both sides have passionate support,” said Jude Barry, a San Jose political consultant who was the director of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in California, which pioneered Internet fundraising.

Donations from friends

Indeed, adopting a strategy pioneered by Dean’s 2004 campaign that builds on social networking, the pro-amendment National Organization for Marriage-California about 10 days ago began inviting supporters to set up their own personal fundraising Web sites. Supporters then e-mail their friends, family or colleagues directly, asking them to contribute.

“Set a goal! Personalize the page with your own pictures and text! Then send personalized e-mails with a link to your personal page,” the National Organization for Marriage site tells supporters. “You can track progress toward your goal by logging in periodically to check recent donations or modify your home page. Even link it up to your MySpace or Facebook page!”

The Internet is also a way for supporters to find allies, greatly multiplying the number of people who might otherwise participate in a political campaign.

“The best way to fundraise is to get friends to ask their friends for money,” said Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage. “NOM California is using technology to help people who care about this issue get involved in a direct way in the campaign, including on the fundraising side.”

Having supporters reach out to their friends or family for donations is also a way to bring large numbers of previously untapped donors into the process.

“I’m probably about 10 years too old to be into the Facebook-MySpace generation, but I’ve been intrigued with the idea and wanted to try it,” said Baker, 32, who lives in Missouri and is an analyst for a think tank that promotes marriage as between a man and a woman. “It makes you feel like you’ve got a stake in the effort.”

Fundraising ‘future’

The National Organization for Marriage’s personalized Web sites and Equality California’s wedding registry illustrate how the electronic fundraising innovations of the 2008 presidential campaign are being adapted to a single-issue campaign at the state level, experts said.

“With what Obama did through social networking and what we’ve seen as far as political campaigns starting to do, this definitely seems to be the future of fundraising,” said Brian Brown, executive director of the organization.

Five fundraising committees — two in favor of the constitutional amendment and three opposed — have registered with the California Secretary of State’s Office.

ProtectMarriage.com and the National Organization for Marriage-California raised a combined $2.3 million in the first quarter of 2008 to support the amendment, compared with $576,733 for Equality for All, an umbrella group that includes Equality California, and is the only anti-amendment group that raised enough to file a fundraising report for the first quarter.

When the second-quarter fundraising reports are filed at the end July, in the wake of the first gay and lesbian marriages this week, those fundraising tallies are certain to be much different — and much larger — for both sides.

Outside experts say the marriage registry is a truly novel adaptation of Internet fundraising.

In the several weeks the registry has been up, more than 550 couples have signed up, asking friends and family to donate money to fighting a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to being between a man and a woman.

When anti-amendment organizers began planning their campaign, they realized many gay and lesbian newlyweds would find more meaning in a political donation than a traditional wedding present.

That was the case for Hammond, 46, a clinical research analyst at the University of California-San Francisco, and Lawrence, 64, the former manager of a travel agency. Their Victorian in the Castro neighborhood is so full they have a rule that nothing new comes in unless something old goes out.

“Here we have people who have been together, in some instances, for 50 years,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “They aren’t just starting out, and they don’t need new toasters and plates and dishes.”




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