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February 25. 2012 11:48PM

Both sides eager to spend in NH's gay marriage fight

Both sides in the fight over gay marriage are pouring in money to woo legislators or penalize those who vote the other way.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently gave $50,000 to Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a Concord group that backs gay marriage.

And the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) plans to tap a nationwide donor base to spend $250,000 on television commercials and to donate to candidates who oppose gay marriage.

The Legislature plans to vote this year on repealing the state's same-sex marriage law, approved in 2009.

NOM President Brian Brown said New Hampshire is in the spotlight.

“I think the Legislature has a chance to right the tremendous wrong of forcing this thing through a few years ago,” Brown said.

Asked what the $250,000 will be used for, Brown said: “We'll expose those candidates who decided to undermine marriage.”

Plans include running independent TV ads as well as donating directly to legislators' campaigns this year.

“There are limits on what we can do with direct contributions, whereas with independent expenditures or issue ads, we can spend unlimited funds,” Brown said.

In 2010, NOM spent more than $1 million, including running ads critical of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Binnie.

NOM expects to spend about $15 million nationally this year, backed by donations from 60,000 supporters.

“We're a national group, but we've got thousands of supporters in New Hampshire, and we work hand in hand in New Hampshire,” Brown said.

Tyler Deaton, spokesman for Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, said his group is not “prepared to forecast our budget to our opponents.”

He said the pro-marriage group is “run entirely by New Hampshire citizens who are concerned about protecting the freedom to marry. Our lobbying operations are steered by the Dupont Group. Our Leadership Council has over 250 respected community leaders from all over the state.”

Its members include DEKA founder Dean Kamen, former GOP Executive Councilor Ruth Griffin and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, according to the group's website.

A member of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, Sean Owen, owner of wedu, a Manchester advertising and marketing agency, is leading a political action committee — New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality — backing gay marriage; it was formed in January.

“We said we'd raise a minimum of $100,000 that would be spent to support Republican officials in campaign races in this cycle, 2012,” Owen said.

By early February, the PAC recorded pledges totaling $60,000, nearly all from New Hampshire residents, Owen said.

“My fundraising is mainly focused in-state,” Owen said. “We won't tie it directly to the votes of the repeal because we can't do that legally.”

Owen said “there's no scorecard. If they're openly and actively supporting us, we will support them (financially) in a Republican primary.”

Owen expects the PAC to be involved in a “handful” of state Senate races, donating $2,500 to $3,000 per candidate.

“Those are respectful amounts to be putting in those races for solid impact,” Owen said.

On the repeal-gay-marriage side, Kevin Smith — who previously headed Cornerstone Action, a group pushing to preserve the state's limited government — has registered as a lobbyist for NOM.

Smith also is a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Brown said NOM has financially supported Cornerstone Action in the past, but wasn't sure whether it still did.

“We're part of a larger coalition, and he's supporting our effort to repeal same-sex marriage,” Brown said of Smith.

Deaton criticized the National Organization for Marriage.

“NOM is an out-of-state anti-gay group that peddles their hatred around the country,” Deaton said in an email. “If they want to use their money to make threats against our public officials, that's not a surprise.”

Brown called his claims “absurd. We represent the majority of Americans who believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman. That's not based on hate.”

Filed last May with the Secretary of State's Office, the articles of agreement for Standing Up for New Hampshire Families lists Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, as one of its co-founders. Wolfson, an attorney, represented a Boy Scout leader from New Jersey who was dismissed for being gay.

Another Standing Up founder is Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry.

“We have, of course, welcomed the support of Freedom to Marry, but this is a home-grown, home-run, home-driven bipartisan effort,” Deaton said.

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