Funds from National Groups Go to Both Sides

Nick Timpe, state director of Students-4-Marrriage, talks about the same-sex marriage ban with the Olson family of Aldie at the Aldie Harvest Festival.
Nick Timpe, state director of Students-4-Marrriage, talks about the same-sex marriage ban with the Olson family of Aldie at the Aldie Harvest Festival. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006

Major national religious groups, gay rights activists and deep-pocketed individual donors have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for and against a Virginia measure that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions, according to campaign finance reports, as the state becomes the latest battleground in the nation's debate over the issue.

Campaign finance records indicate that out-of-state donors, including the Human Rights Campaign and other national groups, are helping lead the effort to defeat the amendment, giving nearly half of the $761,000 raised by the Commonwealth Coalition, the group leading the fight against the amendment. Also among the contributions to the organization are $25,000 from the political action committee of former governor Mark R. Warner (D) and $1,000 from Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice President Cheney, who lists Great Falls as her address.

At the same time, national conservatives, including big-money donors and members of Focus on the Family and the Arlington Group, have provided more than half of the $204,000 raised by, a coalition backing the amendment.

Supporters also have been aided by the Virginia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic dioceses, which sent a letter to 100,000 parishioners last month explaining its support for the amendment.

"What appears to be going on in Virginia is similar to what we saw in both 2004 and 2005," said Rachel Weiss, a spokeswoman for the Institute on Money in State Politics, a Montana-based nonpartisan group that studies campaign financing of state ballot measures. An analysis of campaigns in a dozen states in 2004 found that Focus on the Family and the Human Rights Campaign were among the top 10 contributors to the ballot initiatives.

"In just about all cases, it's gay and lesbian rights organizations squaring off against conservative Christian organizations like the Arlington Group and Focus on the Family, as well as a few churches," Weiss said.

At issue is a measure on Virginia's Nov. 7 ballot that would constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships, which are legal relationships between individuals who share a common domestic life but are not joined in a traditional marriage, common-law marriage or civil union.

Same-sex marriages and civil unions are illegal in Virginia, but supporters say that the amendment is necessary to protect against judges who might deem the statute unconstitutional, as happened in Massachusetts in 2003. Opponents say the amendment would have broad, unintended consequences that would make it difficult for unwed heterosexual couples to enter into contracts and other agreements.

As the battle over the ballot question enters its final two weeks, how much money each side has will be key to efforts to sway public opinion, especially for opponents, who have trailed in every major state poll on the issue. A Washington Post poll released last week found that 53 percent of state voters back the measure and 43 percent oppose it but that the difference narrowed to a virtual tie when respondents were asked to consider arguments for and against the measure.

Supporters plan to air radio ads across the state and launch a regional television campaign this week. Opponents have been airing commercials on CNN this month.

"Electronic media is key for our voter education," said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, campaign manager for the Commonwealth Coalition. "We'll be able to spend every dime up to Election Day."

The coalition, which includes gay rights supporters and others, has been aided by $27,000 in donations from the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group that has sunk millions of dollars into similar ballot questions across the country since 2004.

Although opponents have been able to garner significant support from outside the state, they have also received nearly $400,000 from inside. Fifty-five percent of the coalition's money through Sept. 30 came from in-state contributions, according to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics.

Opponents have been helped by the Denver-based Gill Action Fund, which gave $75,000 to opponents in Virginia. The group was formed to defeat such measures across the country and gave $150,000 to Oregon ballot opponents in 2004.

Nearly half of the money raised by through Sept. 30 came from a $100,000 donation from John Templeton, a wealthy investor from Pennsylvania who also gave $25,000 to Oregon supporters in 2004. received nearly $6,000 from the Arlington Group, a coalition of religious and conservative leaders that heavily funded efforts in several states in 2004. Focus on the Family, which helped provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to states across the country two years ago, gave about $1,600 to supporters in Virginia this year.

Supporters said they weren't concerned about being outspent because their main focus -- organizing the church community -- is a grass-roots one that does not depend on large sums of cash. Forty-five percent of their money through Sept. 30 has come from inside the state, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, the majority of it from state delegates' political action committees, churches and individual donors.

"Some folks from out-of-state have felt compelled to enter into the issue, but . . . our focus was always to raise money from Virginians," said Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation, which established to pass the amendment. "This campaign for us is about people. We feel very, very confident that the grass roots strongly support this, and everywhere we go, we see positive response."

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