President Obama’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples has generated a wave of enthusiasm among LGBT people, and while many major donors maxed out their contributions to his campaign prior to the announcement, anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in smaller donations from LGBT supporters who might not be as politically engaged.
Andy Tobias, who’s gay and treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said supporters had already made significant contributions to the campaign before Obama announced that he had completed his 19-month evolution on same-sex marriage. According to a report in The Advocate, Tobias has raised more than $500,000 as a bundler for the Obama campaign as of late last year.
“Recognizing how much is at stake, the community was already very generous,” Tobias said. “This just added to the enthusiasm.”
Kevin Jennings, who’s gay and formerly headed the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, similarly said he saw only a few new donations after the president’s announcement, noting many Obama supporters had already given all they could. The Advocate report says Jennings raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the campaign as of late last year.
“Because the president already had a strong record of accomplishment on LGBT issues, many of those who donated in 2008 … had already given (in many cases, the maximum amount) by the time of the president’s announcement,” Jennings said. “But I did see a number of new donors jump in — one who told me he gave online with tears running down his face — as well as folks who had not yet given the maximum, but had given something, add to what they had already given.”
Individuals can donate a maximum of $5,000 to a presidential campaign, which can be split between the primary and the general election. But donors can also contribute $30,800 a year to any given national committee and up to $10,000 a year to the “federal account” of state party committees.
Bruce Bastian, a gay Orem, Utah-based philanthropist known for giving to LGBT causes, said he couldn’t legally donate any more money to the Obama campaign after the president came out in support of same-sex marriage. Bastian was among the attendees at a $35,800-a-plate LGBT fundraiser for Obama that took place in D.C. in February and raised $1.4 million for the president.
“I have already contributed to Obama’s campaign as much as I can,” Bastian said. “I am very excited and pleased that the president came out in clear support of marriage equality for all Americans, but it didn’t change my mind in how I support him or to what extent I will support him. I think it is extremely important for the LGBT community to do everything we can to get Obama re-elected.”
The Obama campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on how Obama’s support for same-sex marriage affected LGBT donations, but two weeks after the announcement on Wednesday, the campaign unveiled a new initiative, titled “Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama,” which aims to integrate LGBT supporters into the campaign as Pride month approaches.
Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama is set to launch with trainings, phone banks and house parties in a number of states including Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada and Michigan — which are seen as battleground states in the general election. As part of the effort, the campaign launched the website lgbt.barackobama.com.
Additionally, the White House is set to host a reception celebrating Pride month on June 15. The Obama administration has held Pride celebrations in each of the previous three years of his term. Obama traditionally speaks to attendees at the event, and will likely capitalize on his announcement in support of marriage equality as he addresses LGBT attendees.
While many major donors may have maxed out their contributions to the Obama campaign, anecdotal evidence suggests that Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage prompted individuals who tend to make smaller donations to open their wallets.
Tommy Rossman, a gay 39-year-old D.C. resident and human resources management systems coordinator, said he donated $100 to the Obama campaign after the president made the announcement, and had donated $300 to the campaign before Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage.
“Basically, I was just excited that he finally did it, and I wanted to make sure that since he took a risk politically to do it, that I’m doing my part to help him out as well,” Rossman said. “There are so many people — especially with progressives and with gays in general — that have really screamed loudly for him to do it and, again, I just want them to jump on board.”
Dan Ingram, 22, a gay Madison, Wis., health care software specialist, said he donated $30 one week after the announcement because he thought the move was politically courageous in the wake of the passage of a constitutional same-sex marriage ban in North Carolina and the failure of civil unions legislation in Colorado.
“It seems like the politically smart thing to do would have been to stick with his ‘evolution’ thing that he was pitching for a while, which, I think, a lot of liberal people took as code that he’s going to come out for it, but he’s waiting to get re-elected,” Ingram said. “With how those votes went, that might have still been the politically safer bet to make, so, for me, it was a really principled move by him to say that.”
Ingram said he’d donated multiple times to the president’s 2008 campaign, but his donation this month marks the first time he gave to Obama’s re-election bid.
David Wells, a gay 47-year-old D.C. resident and a self-employed software consultant, said he donated $100 to the president about 10 minutes after he endorsed same-sex marriage.
“Over the course of his first term, I kind of felt like he wasn’t doing anything, and lately he’s been coming back around to the LGBT community,” Wells said. “When he finally came out for this, I was like, ‘OK, I’m back in.'”
Other LGBT supporters of Obama have launched larger efforts to encourage other LGBT donors to give to the campaign. Lane Hudson, a gay D.C. Democratic activist, set up a page on the Obama campaign’s website and made an initial contribution of $500. The page had raised $10,000 within 24 hours of the president’s announcement. As of Wednesday, the page had raised $13,088 for the campaign.
“For me, it was a game changer because people like me have spent the last three-and-a-half years — and also the year before during the campaign — to make the case that it was important for our political leaders to court full civil equality,” Hudson said. “That’s what happened when he made this announcement. It really completed an evolution to a position that we need to get all people in all public office to hold.”
CLARIFICATION: The article has been updated to state more clearly that the reason Bruce Bastian couldn’t donate any more to Obama’s campaign is because he’s already reached the legal limit.