An expected race for the U.S. Senate next year by lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) will likely intensify an unprecedented demand for fundraising within the LGBT community for the 2012 elections on the national, state and local levels, according to LGBT advocacy groups.
Political observers in Wisconsin say Baldwin has emerged as the leading Democratic contender to compete for a Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, who announced that he won’t run for another term next year.
With Baldwin said to have a decent chance of becoming the nation’s first openly gay senator, LGBT rights groups from throughout the country are gearing up to raise funds for her campaign, even though she isn’t expected to officially announce her candidacy until later this summer.
Fundraising among LGBT donors for a Baldwin Senate campaign will come at a time when those same donors are being called on to give money to the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama and to the campaigns of LGBT and LGBT-supportive candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and city and town government posts.
LGBT donors are also expected to be tapped for contributions to campaigns opposing state ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage or to legalize the right of gay couples to marry in as many as five states in 2012.
Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises money for LGBT candidates, said the cost of a Baldwin Senate race would likely rise to between $15 million and $20 million.
“So if our community can be a significant player in that race, and we hope it will be, that will mean a significant investment,” he said. “And I would expect to see the LGBT community play an important role in that race.”
Campaign finance records show that Baldwin has already amassed more than $1 million for her House re-election race, which she’s expected to use for a Senate race. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), who reportedly is considering challenging Baldwin for the Senate nomination in a Democratic primary, has raised far less money than Baldwin, and reported $478,000 cash on hand last week.
Nearly all observers say Baldwin would only back down from a Senate race if former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold enters the race. Feingold, a champion of progressive causes for Wisconsin Democrats, lost his re-election bid last year to Republican Ron Johnson. He has hinted that he’s not likely to run for the seat being vacated by Kohl.
Wolfe said he expects nearly 200 qualified LGBT candidates will be running in the 2012 election on the federal, state and local levels, a development that will prompt the Victory Fund to activate its network of LGBT donors nationwide.
“We’ll continue to see more candidates running for higher levels of office, which, of course, means higher levels of investment,” he said.
Andy Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said the DNC and Obama for America, the president’s re-election campaign, will be doing all of their fundraising – including fundraising within the LGBT community – through a joint committee called Obama Victory Fund 2012.
Tobias, who’s gay, said all of the other races seeking support from the LGBT community are important and he hopes others capable of making contributions will try to support them all.
But he said only the race for president “will determine who gets to shape the Supreme Court going forward, which will be the final word on our equality.”
Added Tobias, “And only one race will determine whether the entire federal government sees us basically as allies deserving of support or citizens who’ve already gained too much equality that needs to be rolled back. We simply have to keep the White House.”
According to Tobias, the Obama Victory Fund effort is aimed at registering and turning out “a huge number of progressive-leaning donors” through 60 field offices and more such offices to come. Thus he said this effort would help all of the other LGBT-related races by bringing supportive voters to the polls.
“So in my view, all of us should support the national effort in a very big way, even as we support other races,” he said.
Among those agreeing with Tobias’s assessment is gay philanthropist Bruce Bastian of Utah, who has made large contributions to Democratic candidates and LGBT advocacy groups and causes for nearly a decade.
“I am not well versed on all of the races or ballot measures,” Bastian told the Blade this week. “That said, I believe the most important goal for the LGBT community in 2012 should be to re-elect President Obama. Why? Just look at the alternatives!”
The Human Rights Campaign has already endorsed Obama’s re-election bid and is expected to continue its past practice of contributing campaign funds to LGBT-supportive candidates through its political action committee.
The HRC PAC contributed just over $800,000 to candidates in 2010 and just under $1.1 million to candidates in 2008, according to HRC’s vice president for communications, Fred Sainz.
“The 2012 election year provides our community with a number of opportunities, including the successful re-election of our president, and a number of vulnerabilities,” Sainz said. “Unfortunately, the one ingredient that all of them share is the need for financial resources to be successful,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the landscape, work closely with our partners on these various contents and will make smart and realistic investments at the appropriate time.”
Evan Wolfson, executive director of the marriage equality advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said the appropriate time to address the expected marriage-related ballot measures is now.
He is calling on LGBT contributors to help raise money for the defeat of a ballot measure in Minnesota, where marriage equality opponents are asking voters to approve a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union only between and man and a woman.
In Oregon and Maine, LGBT rights groups are taking steps to place on the ballot initiatives calling for overturning existing same-sex marriage bans. The proposed ballot measure would also put in place laws to give same-sex couples the legal right to marry.
Ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage are also a possibility in Maryland and North Carolina in 2012. A ballot measure in Maryland is only expected to take place if the state legislature votes to legalize same-sex marriage, a development that LGBT advocacy groups and supportive lawmakers say is a possibility.
“It’s unfortunately too early to be sure if we’re going to have enough money but it’s not too early to be doing the work,” said Wolfson, in discussing the effort for winning marriage equality rights in Maine and Oregon and defeat marriage bans in the other states.
“So we really need to step up and invest in the early persuasion and organizing that are the key to winning,” Wolfson said. “I strongly encourage funders, large and small, to make the best use of the money and time — the most crucial element beginning now so we can move hearts and minds in advance of the end game. That’s how we win.”
The two co-founders of eQualityGiving.org, an LGBT political donors group, said they plan to follow the same process for advising and guiding LGBT donors in 2012 as they have in past election years.
Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover, a Miami-based couple, said their organization sets specific criteria related to the level of support a candidate must express on LGBT issues before the group places that candidate on its list as a possible recipient for contributions from LGBT donors.
“We want them to support all of the criteria,” said Juan Ahonen-Jover. “We base our recommendations on their positions on our issues,” he said.
He said the group doesn’t keep track of how much money its members give to candidates but he believes donors affiliated with the group contribute a sizable amount of money to congressional and state legislative candidates throughout the country.