May 1, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Gay Facebook co-founder criticized for failing to give to N.C. fight

Chris Hughes (photo by USV via wikimedia)

The gay co-founder of Facebook hasn’t contributed financially to the campaign opposing a measure that would ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina — even though the battle to thwart the amendment is taking place in his home state.

Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook along with his Harvard roommate Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 and served as the site’s spokesperson, has made no donations to the campaign against Amendment One since the campaign began last year through 5:30 p.m. on Monday, according to data from the Campaign to Protect All NC Families. According to a Forbes Magazine article published in March, Hughes’ stake in Facebook is worth at least $600 million.

In a statement provided Monday to the Washington Blade, Hughes said he opposes the measure, which will come before voters May 8, because of the negative impact it would have on LGBT families in North Carolina.

“As a native North Carolinian myself, I have opposed this amendment from the start,” Hughes said. “It would write discrimination into the state constitution and hurt gay and lesbian North Carolinians who work hard, contribute to society, and want to protect their families like everyone else.”

Hughes added that he and his fiancé Sean Eldridge, president of the small business investment fund Hudson River Ventures and a senior adviser at Freedom to Marry, have contributed “time and resources” to the fight against Amendment One.

“My fiancé Sean and I have contributed our time and resources to oppose this discriminatory amendment, and we hope that it is defeated next week,” Hughes said. “Along with Freedom to Marry and Equality NC, we helped fund last year’s campaign to keep the amendment off of the ballot and are supportive of the ongoing efforts in the state to win on May 8. Winning the freedom to marry nationwide is a top priority for Sean and myself, and from New York to North Carolina, we’re proud of our work to help make that a reality.”

Same-sex marriage is already barred by statute in North Carolina. Opponents say the measure would also prohibit civil unions and interfere with domestic partner benefits offered by municipalities as well as threaten contractual arrangements between same-sex partners.

Given that Hughes made no contribution to the Campaign to Protect All NC Families, his reference to helping the campaign to keep Amendment One off the ballot could be a reference to contributions made to an effort to stop the state legislature from passing the measure and sending it to voters, which state lawmakers did on Sept. 13.

Hughes did engage in efforts to stop the marriage amendment for coming to the ballot. In a Sept. 9 letter, Hughes wrote an open letter to the General Assembly saying the measure would be “bad for business, bad for the perception of my home state on the national stage and a far cry from job-creating legislation that North Carolina lawmakers should be focused on.” Hughes also pledged to donate $10 for each person who likes Equality North Carolina’s page on Facebook up to a total donation of $10,000.

Born in 1983 in Hickory, N.C., Hughes took on other initiatives after co-founding Facebook. In 2008, he was coordinator of online organizing for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign on My.BarackObama.com, the campaign’s social networking site. Other projects include joining on as entrepreneur in residence at General Catalyst Partners, a Cambridge, Mass.-based venture capital firm, and launching Jumo, a social networking service and website aimed at allowing potential donors to evaluate charities.

In March 2012, Hughes bought a majority share of The New Republic magazine, becoming its owner, editor-in-chief and publisher. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Prior to issuing his statement, Hughes had a brief exchange about Amendment One with the Blade in D.C. at National Public Radio’s “Friday Night Spin” party on April 29. Hughes and Eldridge said they were discouraged from donating by polling data. Some early polls showed the anti-gay side with a double-digit lead in the state. The couple said they instead favored contributing to fights over state ballot measures with better prospects for the pro-gay side, such as in Washington State or Maine.

But recent polls show momentum turning against Amendment One. Data published last week by Public Policy Polling found only 54 percent of voters in the state plan to vote for it, while 40 percent are opposed to the measure. That’s the lowest level of support for the measure that PPP has found in polling since last October.

Adam Bink, director of online programs for the Courage Campaign and an organizer for grassroots efforts against Amendment One, criticized Hughes for failing to donate money to efforts opposing the amendment.

“The question is, will Chris give or won’t he,” Bink said. “It’s disappointing that he’s given up when, with polls the closest in history and an outpouring of support today online from people who work hard to make ends meet, he couldn’t be bothered to give.”

Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the Coalition to Protect All NC Families, responded to Hughes’ lack of contributions by more broadly calling on major donors to give to the campaign.

“With only days until the election, I am overwhelmed by the over 9,500 donors who have contributed over $2 million,” Kennedy said. “We are very close to having a fully funded campaign that can close the gap, and pull an upset by defeating Amendment One. I am hopeful that the major donors across the  country who have yet to give will understand that their resources can make a difference and will help us get to the finish line.”

Hughes isn’t the only noteworthy gay entrepreneur who hasn’t donated money to the campaign against Amendment One. Mitchell Gold, co-founder of the furniture manufacturer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, also hasn’t made a contribution; his company is based in Taylorsville, N.C. Gold declined to comment.

Major donations to the campaign against Amendment One include $200,000 from Jon Stryker, president and founder of Arcus Foundation. Dan Savage, a Seattle-based gay political pundit and sex advice columnist, gave $1,000.

According to the campaign, just under 10,000 donors in total have given so far. The average gift is less than $100 and donations have ranged from $5 to $250,000.

NOTE: This post has been updated.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

12 Comments
  • This is a ridiculous story. Since when is it news to pursue any individual who didn’t give to what they don’t want to? Is there another one coming on David Geffen? Or Ellen? Or Neil Patrick Harris? Or Rosie O’Donnell? I won’t hold my breath. Maybe they think the campaign isn’t winnable. Maybe they’d rather spend their money on other lgbt work…who knows? It seems like very shoddy journalism for the Blade to create stories like this to push their own agenda. Let’s attack people who are helping win gay rights, that’s a great strategy.

  • Agreed, with Walter. I find this article to be offensive. Yes, we all have a “responsibility”, but it is not for any of us to judge when and how someone else fulfills that responsibility.

  • This is the second such article. An earlier article detailed Stryker’s, who did donate to this, and his Arcus Foundation’s, shift in giving away from many of the gay charities they have given to before.

    I suspect they would all do better to follow Peter Thiel’s example. Instead of funding the gay political class, give money to very young entrepreneurs and inventors, even artists and social entrepreneurs, so they can start businesses and careers even without or before going to college. Or start gay friendly alternative schools and home schooling or on line GED programs, so gay kids bullied at state monopoly schools would have school choice denied them by the educrat cartel and the government school system.

    Fewer teen suicides, more gay millionaires. Fewer gay bureaucrats.

  • Chris Johnson, you’re an [EXPLETIVE REMOVED]. Shame on you and the Blade for publishing this trash.

  • Not only is it in poor taste but it’s also poor politics to bite the hand that has fed and will feed again. That alone tells me that the organization running the fight is not worthy of political dollars. We lost prop 8 in California due primarily to poor organization. You couldn’t have beat the money out of me near the when they told all the doubled degree people begging to help to go stand out in the middle of boystown with flyers preaching to the choir.

  • This is a dangerous road to head down thinking you have the right to direct how someone spends their money. Most major donors have lost a significant amount on ALL 30 ballot measures that have failed to help the LGBT community. Let’s face it, most people would have agreed that NC had no chance. I certainly hope they do defeat Amendment 1 so we can export the strategy to other states. In the interim, incendiary articles attacking donors will accomplish nothing. Tim Gill, the most generous donor to gay causes hasn’t given either. Are we going to attack him to, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s given? He’s by far the most strategic thinker in the movement. The polling must be worse than the referendum in Alaska which he gave money to for him to pass this one up.

  • Chris Hughes has been an incredibly generous supporter of gay causes, and has already given time and money to this. If he now chooses to put his resources elsewhere, well, they’re his resources and that’s his decision. This would-be public shaming reflects poorly on the campaign and the blade. Pick on our enemies, please, not our best friends.

  • Stop counting other people’s money! Chris Hughes’ September 9th letter drew national attention to what was happening in North Carolina while the gay press/blogs slept.

    Now that the Amendment One vote is too close to call, people are trying to setup gay leaders who didn’t give money for blame. When the vote comes out to be 51/49, reporters will be ready to say “If only Chris Hughes gave X amount, we would have won.

  • I applaud the Blade for covering this. Hughes is worth anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion, depending upon the valuation of Facebook. And he gave $10,000 and now does nothing but “hopes it is defeated”? Disgraceful. It is absolutely newsworthy and you are right to cover it. It is time for the gay press to look at the actions of key individuals and organizations to determine whether and to what extent they are truly helping and are worthy of the veneration that they have enjoyed.

    I strongly urge the Blade to do a story on the role of HRC and NGLTF in these campaigns. There is a discernible pattern to this involvement. In each case, these groups provide limited cash and “loaners” of staff. But it is always kept at a level that is insufficient for the local campaign to achieve a decisive edge. In Maine for example, the two groups donated several hundred thousand dollars (out of a total campaign effort of $4.5 million). There is no question that this was helpful, but did this really reflect what these 2 groups could have done? It certainly didn’t match NOM’s efforts to help the other side.

    The 2 groups together bring in approximately $50 million. What was so terribly important in 2009 that all they could do for Maine was several hundred thousand dollars? The end result was that while our side did outraise the other side, there was no decisive advantage. At the end of the day, we achieved only a 1.5:1 fundraising edge, not enough to win.

    We are seeing the same pattern in NC: limited help, staff loaners and a less-than-decisive fundraising edge. There is every reason we will see the same pattern repeat in the other 4 batleground states later this year. These groups need to open up their treasure chests and actually make use of the money that is sent their way. Please cover this story.

  • One response to those who say that Hughes’s meager giving is excusable because we are likely to lose in NC. There is more than one way to lose. You can lose by 25 percent and be devastated for a generation or you can lose narrowly (as happened in CA and ME) and be energized for a rematch. In the case of NC, a solid conservative state in the Bible belt, it would be a serious blow to the other side if we kept their vote in the 50s. They won South Carolina with over 70 percent and numerous other southern states such as LA and MS with over 80 percent. If they “win” NC with, say, 55%, that would be an outcome that would chill their bones and prove the point that opposition is eroding everywhere. It will boost our side for the other 4 fights, even though the amendment itself would have passed.

  • Michael Heron – a loss is a loss in NC. Shrinking the spread does nothing to demoralize our enemies from going into other states. Their hatred isn’t moderated by the results of any election.

  • @Steven:

    If there is no difference b/t a 20 point loss and a 2 point loss and there is no impact on morale on our adversaries from dramatic underperformance, then it would be the first time in politics that such distinctions didn’t matter. Right now, NOM is crowing over a NY special election that they are likely to lose in NY. Why? Because they claim that their involvement turned an expected lopsided win for the Dem into at best a narrow win. They claim momentum even in a defeat. So no, not all losses are equal.

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