Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By SUSAN M. COVER Staff Writer
AUGUSTA - The group leading the push to pass a ballot measure to allow gay couples to marry in Maine has raised nearly eight times more money than opponents, according to campaign finance reports filed with just over four weeks to go until Election Day on Nov. 6.
THE FIRST QUESTION on the Maine ballot on Nov. 6 will read: "Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?"
Mainers United for Marriage, which supports the ballot measure, has raised $3.35 million this year, while the main opposition group, Protect Marriage Maine, has raised $429,794.
Those totals don't include other groups that are raising and spending money to influence the election. Some of those groups donate money to the lead organizations, and others spend it independently in hopes of swaying the vote.
The reports also show a very different approach to the battle over Question 1, which asks voters if they want to allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The 230-page report filed by supporters shows a massive campaign operation with thousands of donors, dozens of staffers and several affiliated organizations that donate time, money, food and other items. Among the expenditures is $1.4 million on television ads.
The 22-page report filed by opponents shows a small operation with fewer than 125 individual donors, a paid staff of four and a television ad buy of $153,000. Also, the campaign is $48,500 in debt.
However, it's important to note that the reports span the period between July 18 and Sept. 30, and more money has been raised and spent since then. And in 2009, when Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote, those opposed to gay marriage spent $3.8 million, while those in support spent $5.8 million.
Carroll Conley of Protect Marriage Maine said his side hoped to have more money by this point in the campaign, with the ultimate goal of raising $1.2 million.
"I think we're still going to meet our mark," he said.
The campaign's first ads are due to begin airing Monday statewide, while groups in support have been airing ads since July.
Matt McTighe, campaign manager for the pro-gay marriage Mainers United, said donations to his group have meant they could run a campaign that puts a heavy emphasis on individual conversations with voters. When the campaign began, McTighe said they expected to raise about $5 million, and it appears to be on pace to meet the goal.
"Thousands of Mainers have contributed to our campaign to allow same-sex couples to receive a marriage license from the state," he said in a statement. "We see that people are changing their minds, but we know the hardest part of the campaign is yet to come."
OPPONENTS STILL CONFIDENT
Recent polling shows between 52 percent and 57 percent of Mainers support same-sex marriage, but opponents say that once they start airing television ads, those numbers will drop.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, called some of the early polling "silly" and said he's confident of a win on Election Day.
"I'm very confident that when the people of Maine vote, they will reject same-sex marriage and all the polling will be exposed for what it is," he said.
Campaign finance reports filed by midnight Friday show well-heeled donors giving money to support gay marriage. Among the major individual donors is hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, who gave $100,000. Sussman, who is married to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is 75 percent owner of MaineToday Media, which includes the Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.
Esmond Harmsworth of Boston, a literary agent, gave $75,000 and former Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth donated $15,000 in cash, and catering valued at $2,100, the reports show.
Freedom to Marry, a New York group that works to win gay marriage across the country, donated $775,000. Another major supporter, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which has run television ads in support of gay marriage, reported raising $217,775 and spending more than $426,890. That leaves them with a deficit of $209,115.
IN-KIND DONATIONS ALSO REPORTED
In addition to direct donations from proponents, Mainers United for Marriage received $213,880 in in-kind donations. That includes $900 worth of DVDs donated by comedian Margaret Cho of Beverly Hills.
Opponents received the bulk of their money from the National Organization for Marriage, which gave $252,000 during this reporting period. The largest individual donation came from Dr. Christopher Ritter, a Bangor physician who gave $10,000, the reports show.
Focus on the Family gave $25,000 and the Christian Civic League of Maine gave $20,000. Also, a group called CitizenLink, a Colorado-based organization affiliated with Focus on the Family, gave $25,000. In-kind donations totaled $1,256.
In 2009, most of the money spent by opponents was donated by the National Organization for Marriage, which gave nearly $2 million. The group has been investigated by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices for refusing to release its donor list from that campaign. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the National Organization for Marriage's appeal of a lower court's decision to order it to release its donor list.
The group also did not list individual donors on the report filed last week, prompting Mainers United to accuse it of once again skirting campaign finance laws. Brown, its executive director, said the National Organization for Marriage donated money from its general fund, which is permissible under Maine law.
Events related to the ballot question are planned in the coming weeks, including a debate at the University of Southern Maine on Oct. 18, and two spaghetti dinners hosted by former Gov. John Baldacci, a gay-marriage supporter.
Baldacci, who signed gay marriage into law in 2009 before it was repealed by voters, will host a spaghetti dinner Oct. 17 in Bangor and another Oct. 26 in Portland, according to Catholics for Marriage Equality.
Staff Writer Susan Cover can be reached at 621-5643 or at: