The four Republican New York state senators who voted for same-sex marriage last June are reaping a windfall from gay, liberal, and some conservative donors who support marriage equality, but virtually none of that money is flowing to the Democrats who provided the overwhelming majority of the votes for the bill — including those who, like the GOP supporters, switched their votes to yes or who live in highly contested districts.
What’s more, $100,000 of the money given to these four Republicans has already been passed through by them to the New York Senate Republican Campaign Committee to support anti-gay senators and help preserve the one-vote Republican majority.
Among the GOP senators, Roy McDonald of Saratoga pulled in $447,000 since voting for marriage equality, “27 times more than he had raised in the same period in 2009,” according to the New York Times. Similar amounts were donated to Republicans Mark Grisanti of Buffalo ($325,000), James Alesi of East Rochester ($400,000), and Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie ($425,000).
The Times did not note that Democrats are getting stiffed. Democrat Senator Joe Addabbo, who represents conservative Howard Beach and switched his vote from no to yes, raised just 36,000 in the same period. Shirley Huntley of Jamaica, Queens, who also made a crucial switch to yes despite her strong religious misgivings about same-sex marriage, raised $7,500
“I’m disappointed, obviously,” said Democratic Senator Tony Avella, who raised $46,245 since his yes vote from conservative northern Queens. “I defeated someone who would have defeated marriage equality, and I made it a big issue in my campaign. I would appreciate the same amount of support.”
He beat anti-gay 40-year incumbent Frank Padavan in 2010.
"I got them to the spot where Republican votes made a difference,” Avella said.
Avella will also be up against the new district lines that Republican senators put forth January 26, a blatant gerrymander that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spokesperson called “unacceptable” and former Mayor Ed Koch said was “dishonorable” because most of them had signed a pledge he wrote to do non-partisan redistricting. The plan creates new, more conservative districts and packs more voters into Democrat-leaning city districts and fewer into upstate GOP districts. The Wall Street Journal noted the plan would also force Democrats such as Avella to run against other Democratic incumbents.
Last July, Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is fighting same-sex marriage and partnership recognition nationwide, said she was “confident” that a four-year, $2 million campaign in New York could turn around enough seats in both houses of the Legislature to undo same-sex marriage in the state. The group did not respond to a request for comment on its strategy.
Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, an out gay Upper West Side Democrat who led the charge on marriage equality in his chamber, saw the Times story about the gay money going to Republicans and said, “None of it has come to me. Part of this business involves raising money. [Assembly Speaker] Shelly Silver has led the battle and I led the campaign. We put this out front and center when people in the governor’s office didn’t think we could do it.”
Gay donors, O’Donnell said, tell him, “‘We don’t want to take you for granted,’ but that is what has happened. When the larger gay community doesn’t recognize who fought the battle for so long, it makes the next battle harder.”
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which has passed the Assembly four times, has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate and did not pass when Democrats had narrow control two years ago.
“We can’t do that without a strong, Democratic majority,” O’Donnell said of GENDA.
“At my first fundraiser after we won same-sex marriage, only my friends came,” he recalled. “I go to the dinners for the Victory Fund, which does great work and where people buy tables for $10,000. But I didn’t get a single check from any of those donors.”
The group endorsed him, O’Donnell said, but that’s about it.
Some of the big money that went to the Republican four is coming from conservatives unlikely to give to any Democrat. Paul Singer, CEO of Elliott Management, has given to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the American Foundation For Equal Rights, which is fighting Proposition 8 in court, but he is mostly dedicated to electing right-wing Republicans across the country who will stop LGBT rights and other progressive legislation as well as roll back the rights of labor. He and David Koch, who with his brother is funding a campaign to restrict ballot access across the country, maxed out to the four GOP senators who voted for marriage equality.
But big donations to the Republicans were also received from people such as Broadway producer Daryl Roth, who heroically brought Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” back to Broadway last year. She and her husband Steven donated $16,800 to Saland, Grisanti, and McDonald. In 2008, they had made 92 percent of their political donations to Democrats and four percent to Republicans.
“My son [producer Jordan Roth] is happily planning to marry soon,” Roth told the Times regarding her motivation.
She told Gay City News, “We wanted to support people who had come to a courageous decision from a different place. It wasn’t a decision not to support someone else.”
But none of the Roths’ donations were to the Democrats who switched votes or come from contested districts. The ask for the Republicans came from “people in the state administration,” she said, but would not mention whom.
Informed that a good chunk of the money was being passed on to the Republican’s general fund to elect GOP senators, Roth said, “I don’t want that to be the truth.”
She explained, “I’m really more political through my work.” Indeed, she has indeed produced groundbreaking shows, including six Pulitzer Prize winners — “August Osage County,” “Anna in the Tropics,” “Proof,” “Wit,” “How I Learned to Drive,” and “Three Tall Women.”
Some of the more familiar gay names who turn up on Republican disclosures include KPMG’s Michael Katovitz, attorney Marc Wolinsky, former Gay Men’s Health Crisis board president Louis Bradbury, and Patrick Guerriero, the former Log Cabin Club president, but in relatively smaller amounts. None made similar donations to Democratic senators or Assembly members during the last six months, according to State Board of Elections records, but most give to other Democrats including Cuomo.
The governor, in fact, has been the beneficiary of substantial donations from gay people — including at an LGBT fundraiser in California — for his leadership in the marriage equality fight.
A Democratic source said the party has been reaching out to the gay and progressive donors who gave to the Republicans, but nothing came through by the end of January’s reporting period.
The Senate Republican Campaign Committee (SRCC) has five times the cash the Democratic Senatorial Campaign (DSCC) has at this point.
Queens Senator Michael Gianaris, head of the DSCC, whose Democratic conference produced 29 of the 33 votes for same-sex marriage, said that while he is pleased that a few Republican senators voted for the marriage equality bill, “one good vote doesn’t justify a conference dominated by a conservative ideology that wouldn’t let bills like GENDA and housing assistance for people with HIV see the light of day.”
Gianaris spoke of the larger civil rights agenda that the Democratic majority supports, including what it did pass in the brief period they held power prior to 2011. New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman called that session “probably the most productive for civil rights and liberties in decades” — with the end to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, a domestic workers’ bill of rights, safeguards for those stopped and frisked by police, and the counting of prisoners in their home districts rather than in upstate prisons for purposes of redistricting. Republicans are currently fighting the prisoner counting reform unsuccessfully in court.
“People are entitled to support who they want,” Gianaris said. “But it is important that they support those who share their values.”
The Empire State Pride Agenda gave more than $20,000 to the DSCC and none to the SRCC in the latest reporting period in recognition of the overwhelming Democratic vote for marriage equality.
“We should be thankful for that,” said Ross Levi, the group’s executive director. “Our community has a history of standing by those who stood up for us.”
The Pride Agenda has not made its major donations for the 2012 elections yet.
“It’s about timing,” Levi said. “We’re waiting to see which races will be competitive and where to best make our investment,” noting that the district lines are not even set yet. He also said that beyond donations, the Pride Agenda “can motivate thousands of people to go to the polls” for their endorsed candidates.
Brian Ellner, who led the Human Rights Campaign’s marriage equality effort in New York, was part of a group of 20 people who put together a fundraiser for the four pro-equality Republican senators. He did not respond to an email seeking comment on why no Democrats were included, but Fred Sainz, vice president for communications for the group, which is non-partisan like Pride Agenda, said, “It is especially important that Republicans are seen as being able to defend themselves” after supporting the LGBT community. “I don’t believe that there was any ill will intended against the Democrats who voted for it. It was more of a mistake of the mind than of the heart.”
HRC itself, he said, has donated to the DSCC and not to the SRCC.
Senator Tom Duane, an out gay Chelsea Democrat who led the marriage effort in his chamber, said via email, “I cannot speak to the reasons of why or how members of the LGBT community, or any person, PAC, or bundler for that matter, chooses to contribute to any elected official or political party.”
Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat who always gets a tough Republican challenge, wrote in an email, “I was proud to be one of the senators who formed the foundation for passage of the marriage equality act. The foundation was built by Democrats, and I’m sure people recognize the important role we played in allowing marriage equality to pass in New York State. It was never about the money, it was always about doing what was right.”
Veteran gay activist Allen Roskoff, president of the LGBT Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, said, “The Republican Party is going to use this gay money to run against our friends in the Senate. Where’s the logic in that? We are rewarding a party that gave us minimal support.”
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, another non-partisan group, wrote in an email, “There is no question that the bulk of the leadership and votes in support of equality for gay people, including in marriage, has come from Democrats. That should be acknowledged and furthered. It is also true that to win, we need, and increasingly — as our victory in New York showed — are getting Republican legislators as well as donors and advocates.”
Wolfson explained, “Personally, I know when I make a donation, I consider many things, including a candidate’s courage and commitment to the things I value most and believe best for our country. I also look at where donations are most needed to win a race that matters, and where I can make the most difference.”
According to Board of Elections records, Wolfson has not yet made any State Senate contributions.
“I’m getting married in a week,” O’Donnell said. “I feel I accomplished a good thing. For the gay community not to recognize what the Assembly did, how we managed to hold on to a vote count and keep the issue alive and propel the issue forward in the country — Assembly Democrats should be rewarded in the same way as those four Republicans. And they have not been.”