The Atlantic last month had a fascinating story by Josh Green about Tim Gill, a Denver-based software mogul who's organized an under-the-radar group of gay political donors who are targeting state-level races. Green profiles an Iowa Republican legislator who was defeated last election with the help of this "group of rich, gay philanthropists." Turns out the Gill machine also struck in Washington and Oregon last year. After reading Green's piece, I headed to Washington's Public Disclosure Commission Web site and found that Gill and six other out-of-state donors contributed more than $25,000 to six, swing-district Democrats running for the Legislature. A similar picture emerges in Oregon. Asked about this pattern of giving, Gill's political guy, Patrick Guerriero, former head of the Log Cabin Republicans, was fairly cryptic. He told me: "You're not being inaccurate in noting that." He also says: "There is an open line of communication about places where individuals can invest and try to make a difference." Gill's people confirmed that in 2006 his network of donors targeted more than 70 races in 13 states - including Washington and Oregon. The Atlantic's Green reports these were state legislative, judicial, and gubernatorial races. Washington state Sen. Ed Murray, an openly gay Seattle Democrat, says the gay lobby has traditionally focused on national races. But after the 2004 election, that started changing. "In the last presidential election, the gay community had its clock cleaned," admits Murray, referring to the eleven states - including Oregon - that passed ballot measures banning gay marriage. Murray and Guerriero say after that election, the gay community swung into action. Murray explains it this way: "What's going on is there's sort of a fairly low-grade, under-the-radar conversation that's going on in the gay community about investing at the state level." Based on interviews with several gay rights-leaders locally and nationally, it appears this new focus on state elections has three main goals:
- Defeat un-gay-friendly measures, candidates and office holders.
- Win passage of gay-friendly legislation like domestic partnerships.
- Ultimately win the right – state-by-state if necessary – for gays and lesbians to marry
The fact the Gill effort in Washington and Oregon is only now coming to light - six months after the election - concerns one defeated Republican. Former House member Toby Nixon says it's a sign the current campaign finance disclosure system may be inadequate. "If there was some way in more real time during the campaign to find out that this kind of considered effort was going on, maybe a more effective response could be mounted," says Nixon. But another defeated Republican, Luke Esser, a former state senator and now Washington State Republican Party Chair, refuses to bash the out-of-state money that came into his district. "I think it's incumbent upon Republicans and those who are not in favor of the gay marriage agenda to be ready to raise the money they need to win elections in the future," Esser says. If you'd like to know more, I've produced a story for public radio's Northwest News Network about the Gill influence in Washington and Oregon. Something I didn't know before reporting this story is the extent to which the gay lobby in Washington has long been a major player in legislative races. Almost a decade ago, Tim Bradbury, the openly gay former King County judge, founded Fighting for the Majority. Today, he and Murray claim this gay political fund is the single largest contributor to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses in Washington. Given that, it's worth noting that in the past two years the Democratic majorities in the Washington Legislature amended the state's anti-discrimination law to include gays and lesbians (after nearly 30 years of trying) and this year passed domestic-partnership legislation. Oregon lawmakers this year also passed a domestic-partnership bill.