May 14 2012

 

 

Black Tie Dinner

Los Angeles's 'paper of record' has done a wonderful article on the history of modern day political fundraising in the LGBT movement. In an article, written by Melanie Mason, Matea Gold and Joe Tanfani, they explore from the early days in the late 1970's with the creation of the first LGBT PAC in history to the current powerful LGBT donors. Essentially they proclaim that LGBT donors have moved from the fringe into the mainstream. The journalist write:

In 1988, well-heeled gay activists went to Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign with an offer to raise $1 million for his election effort.

The campaign said no, according to the activists. "They turned us down flat because it was gay money," said longtime gay rights advocate David Mixner.

Less than a quarter-century later, the gay and lesbian community ranks as one of the most important parts of President Obama's campaign-finance operation. The campaign has hosted a slew of events targeted at gay donors, from intimate dinners to extravagant galas. Wealthy gay business executives and philanthropists fill the ranks of Obama's top bundlers. Twenty-one prominent gay individuals and couples raised a total of at least $7.4 million for the president's reelection through the end of March.

Born of the desperate urgency of the AIDS crisis, the fundraising powerhouse assembled by the gay community has propelled its concerns to center stage. Both the Obama campaign and gay activists reject the suggestion that the president's endorsement of same-sex marriage was tied to fundraising. But there is no doubt that a once-marginalized constituency is now mainstream, influencing electoral politics from city hall to the White House.

They highlight the early years of MECLA and HRC and how difficult it was to both raise money and even give money:

Early forays into political fundraising by gays and lesbians began in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, with activists such as Mixner, who helped launch the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles, or MECLA, the first political action committee financed by gays and lesbians. In 1980, organizers in Washington, D.C., started what was then called the Human Rights Campaign Fund to raise money for congressional candidates who supported gay rights.

For those involved, the cause was deeply personal — dozens of MECLA's members died of AIDS over the years.

"Political fundraising in the gay and lesbian community started with AIDS, because our friends were dying and no one was paying attention," said Hilary Rosen, a Washington consultant and early activist. "I don't mean to minimize the energy around marriage or employment discrimination, but it's hard for people to recall now how desperate we were, how many funerals we went to every month. We weren't fundraising for power — we were fundraising for our lives."

At first, it was "very difficult to get any gay people to contribute," said James Hormel, a founding member of the HRC Fund, who went on to serve as a U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg in the Clinton administration. "People were afraid to be identified, so they stayed in the shadows."

Many politicians were wary of publicly taking money from the gay and lesbian community. Even liberal Democrats in Los Angeles "would send the checks back," Mixner said.

They discuss the historic Clinton event in 1992 at the Hollywood Palace where the $100,000 raised was the largest ever for Presidential candidate from the LGBT community. Then Jeff Soref and Andy Tobias worked with the Democratic National Committee to create a major event in 1997. With Clinton attending, it was the first fundraiser in history where a sitting President actually attended.

The reporters write:

Another fundraising milestone came in 1997, when activists Jeff Soref and Andrew Tobias arranged a fundraising dinner at Washington's Mayflower Hotel attended by Clinton and benefiting the Democratic National Committee. It was the first gay fundraiser attended by a sitting president, Soref and Tobias said.

"Until it was over, we couldn't exhale," said Tobias, now the DNC's treasurer and an Obama bundler.

But much to the organizers' chagrin, the White House and the DNC avoided identifying the event as a gay and lesbian event.

Such reticence persisted throughout the Clinton administration. Staff members often labeled events with gays and lesbians as "business council meetings" on his public schedule, said Paul Yandura, who worked in the Clinton White House and served as director of gay and lesbian outreach for his 1996 reelection campaign.

"They were skittish about it because this was something very new," he said.

Real clout was shown by the LGBT community in the race for President by Vermont Governor Howard Dean. That campaign most likely set a record of the highest percentage of its donors being LGBT contributors:

The community flexed its muscle again in 2003, when gay and lesbian supporters provided the early seed money for Howard Dean's White House bid. As governor of Vermont, he had signed same-sex civil unions into law.

"There would not have been a Howard Dean presidential campaign without the gay and lesbian community," said Stephanie Schriock, who served as Dean's national finance director and is now president of Emily's List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.

President Obama, who has had a rocky relationship at times with the LGBT community, is now held in high esteem for his courage in embracing same sex marriage. The reporters close with:

The president's stance triggered a wave of donations to his campaign, fundraisers said, and a clamor of interest in a gay and lesbian gala scheduled for June 6 in Los Angeles. Tickets, expected to bring in millions of dollars, range from $1,250 to $12,500 a person.

"He would have been welcomed with open arms," said Lombardo, who sits on the host committee organizing the event. "But now it will be with bear hugs."