AUGUSTA – Supporters of gay marriage hold a large fundraising lead months in advance of November’s vote on a proposal to legalize same-sex unions, but opponents say a Father’s Day collection at churches in Maine and across the country will soon give them a financial boost.

Mainers United for Marriage, the largest political action committee supporting gay marriage, took in about $359,000 in cash donations from April 1 to May 29, said David Farmer, spokesman for the group. That brings its total fundraising for the year to $465,559.

Although the group had not yet filed its campaign finance report — it wasn’t due until 11:59 p.m. Friday — Farmer said it would show a large donation from the Freedom to Marry Maine PAC, a New York group that supports gay-marriage efforts across the country.

In total, the group donated $29,775.

Freedom to Marry got most of its money — $50,000 — from Chris Hughes, a Facebook founder who has pledged as much as $100,000 as a matching-gift challenge in support of gay marriage.

Opponents of the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot reported $9,754 in contributions in this reporting period to the Protect Marriage Maine political action committee, for a total of $11,439 this year.

The largest single donation came from the Newport Church of God in Brewer, which contributed $800. The National Organization for Marriage donated $3,150 through in-kind contributions.

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said the group has just begun to approach potential donors. On Father’s Day, June 17, some 150 to 200 churches in Maine and others across the country will pass a second collection plate to support efforts to defeat the gay marriage ballot question in the fall, he said.

“We’ve had a number of churches and individuals from around the country ask to participate in that,” he said.

Conley said gay-marriage supporters got an early edge in fundraising because they had the organization in place after their successful effort to gather more than 50,000 signatures to get the citizens initiative on the ballot.

Opponents had their first executive committee meeting in early May, he said.

“There’s going to be a lot of money in Maine and coming from the outside,” he said. “That’s the political piece that can’t be overlooked.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage expect to get money and in-kind donations from the National Organization for Marriage, which donated nearly $2 million in 2009 to overturn a gay-marriage law at the polls. The outcome was 53 percent to 47 percent.

Mainers United and Protect Marriage Maine are the two major political action committees that will raise and spend money on the campaign. Other groups have registered with the state, so they too can spend money to influence voters.

Supporters launched an aggressive fundraising campaign last month when Hughes and his partner, Sean Eldridge, pledged as much as $100,000 to the Maine effort. The wealthy Democratic activists from New York gave Mainers United until June 7 to meet the fundraising goal.

“We expect to meet the goal next week,” Farmer said.

Overall, supporters have said they believe they will raise about $5 million to try to convince Mainers to approve the ballot question that would change Maine law to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

“We feel good about our fundraising, but this is going to be an expensive race,” Farmer said. “We’re going to call on our supporters over and over again.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

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