July 17, 2012 at 10:39 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Will D.C. gays contribute to Maryland same-sex marriage campaign?

Josh Levin speaks at Baltimore fundraiser for Marylanders for Marriage Equality (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Will D.C. gays support efforts to defend neighboring Maryland’s same-sex marriage law?

Some observers are asking just that after Freedom to Marry hosted a fundraiser in the nation’s capital for the group seeking to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maine. Baltimore native Ken Mehlman, who is the gay former chair of the Republican National Committee, Winnie Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress, Ken Crerar and Joel Kopperud of the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers and Kirk Fordham of the Gill Action Fund are among those who were on the host committee for the Mainers United for Marriage fundraiser at Robert Raben’s Northeast Washington home on July 11.

Matt McTighe, campaign director for Mainers United for Marriage, told the Blade that he personally asked former colleagues and friends in D.C. to join the fundraiser’s host committee. He said it raised slightly more than $20,000 as of deadline.

“We’re doing fundraisers all over the country,” said McTighe, who noted Mainers United for Marriage has held events in 15 states. “We’re going to continue to do more wherever we can do them.”

Stachelberg, who hired McTighe when she was at the Human Rights Campaign, stressed that CAP has worked extensively to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law. These efforts include what she described as conversations with LGBT lawmakers in Annapolis and strengthening support for marriage rights for gays and lesbians among religious Marylanders. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler predicted during a CAP forum last fall that state lawmakers would pass a same-sex marriage bill this year — Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the measure into law in March.

“We at CAP have done a lot in terms of content and work probably more in Maryland than other state initiatives,” said Stachelberg. “I certainly helped with strategic in kind help over the last year and a half as have a number of other people at CAP. The Maryland effort hasn’t asked me and I’m sure when they do I’ll figure out how to help.”

Crerar and his partner Peter Garrett, who attended Bowdoin College, have owned a house in Maine since 1992. The couple hosted a fundraiser at their D.C. home in support of the campaign that ultimately failed to defend the Pine Tree State’s same-sex marriage law during a 2009 referendum. Crerar told the Blade that he and Garrett decided to co-host the July 11 fundraiser after Mainers United for Marriage asked them.

“From spending time up there, we know that the atmosphere is very different, and positive so we are glad to help,” said Crerar. “Regarding Maryland, the simple answer is that no one has asked.”

Gay Democratic lobbyist  Steve Elmendorf said that McTighe also asked him to join the fundraiser’s host committee. He, like Crerar, said that Marylanders for Marriage Equality has yet to approach him to help the campaign raise money. Elmendorf stressed, however, that he plans to attend an upcoming Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser in Bethesda.

“As long as there is a winning campaign — and I think Maryland has a winning campaign as does Maine, we’re going to help,” he said.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks from those who feel the campaign has not raised enough money to effectively defend the state’s same-sex marriage law.

The campaign last week unveiled a web ad that features black Marylanders who support nuptials for gays and lesbians. Marylanders for Marriage Equality also launched a new web site a day after state election officials certified a petition to prompt a November referendum on the issue. O’Malley, House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County,) Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and HRC President Chad Griffin are among those who have either co-hosted or attended campaign fundraisers in recent months.

Josh Levin, campaign director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, told the Blade during a June 13 fundraiser in Baltimore that he remains confident that he can run what he described as a “winning campaign” with between $5 and $7 million. A former Equality Maryland fundraiser said last month that he feels the campaign needs to raise at least $10 million. Other LGBT activists who asked the Blade to remain anonymous have stressed that Marylanders for Marriage Equality will need up to $12 million to defend the law.

Neither Levin nor other campaign representatives have publicly disclosed the amount of money that Marylanders for Marriage Equality has raised.

Kevin Nix, spokesperson for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, downplayed speculation that the Mainers United for Marriage fundraiser is in any way indicative of gay Washingtonians’ unwillingness to support the campaign to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law. “D.C. is one of the go-to places to hold a fundraiser—happens every day for every issue and candidate under the sun, no matter the state,” he said. “Par for the course.”

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, told the Blade in an earlier interview that Marylanders for Marriage Equality will need “10 million plus” to defend the state’s same-sex marriage law in the referendum. The organization has contributed thousands of dollars to the campaigns to defend nuptials for gays and lesbians in Minnesota and Washington, in addition to Maine, through its Win More States Fund.

“We are deeply involved in several of the campaigns, while others are taking the lead elsewhere, including Maryland,” said Wolfson. “We encourage everyone to step up and work hard in all of these campaigns, just as we are doing where we can. Each of these campaigns requires millions of dollars, most raised in state, some raised by national efforts. We are working hard to do our parts and invite others to invest strategically through the Win More States Fund.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • I would suggest that the Maryland groups sit down with people in DC and plan a big fundraiser in September that could include as hosts Maryland Governor O’Malley, DC Mayor Gray, some White House Staff and others who would join together to make it a success. I can’t imagine that anyone on the host list for the Maine fundraiser wouldn’t also agree to join in one for Maryland.

  • I am extremely impressed with our campaigns in ME, WA and MN. They are all doing a fantastic job of engaging the public and framing the debate. Fundraising in these 3 states may, for the very first time, establish a decisive advantage for our side. (Contrary to popular belief, in most of the 32 states where this battle has been joined, we have been out-raised, achieved parity, or have achieved only a modest advantage. We have never achieved a decisive advantage, i.e., a greater than 3-1 fundraising ratio, until now.

    MD is clearly the biggest worry since we have little information as to what they are raising. There will be no campaign finance disclosure until October. Our side’s website looks good and based on the information on the respective websites our campaign clearly looks better than our adversary’s operation. However, HRC really has to step up here. Its usual practice is to support these marriage referenda campaigns with a few hundred thousand dollars and some staff loans. That won’t do here. MD is in HRC’s backyard and the local group essentially imploded in 2011. If we are going to win, HRC needs to pony up several million from its $40 million revenue, and NGLTF need to bear a heavy part of the load too. They need to tap their donor networks and help MD out now. If they fail in this, if they simply once again toss an inadequate amount to the locals and lend a few staff, it will be a held against both groups.

    My personal view is that MD should have passed civil unions in 2011 and then let that serve as a bridge to marriage in 2014 or 2015. We would have won civil unions overwhelmingly and would have had no referendum. HRC wanted to go for full marriage now. Having gotten what they wanted, HRC had better do everything it can to get us a win.

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