Prominent gay Democratic Party donor Jonathan Lewis is pledging to cut off funds to the party over his disappointment that bi-national same-sex couples were excluded from the immigration reform bill.
In a statement provided to the Washington Blade on Tuesday, the Miami-based philanthropist said he’s turning off the tap for Democrats and urging others to do the same over the immigration issue and President Obama’s reluctance to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.
“During the immigration reform debate Senate Democrats had the opportunity to reverse some of the harm caused by DOMA and they buckled under pressure, essentially taking LGBT families for granted,” Lewis said. “With the president failing to deliver on his promised federal contractor executive order and with Senate Democrats caving to Republican threats, now is the time to stop investing in Democratic cowardice and stand proud by withholding donations until we see our friends’ actions and deeds align with their rhetoric — I will be withholding my donation and asking all of my friends and family members to do the same until such time.”
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld from the committee amendments that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act after Democrats on the committee — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — said they couldn’t vote for the measures out of fear of losing Republican support for the larger bill.
Lewis, who provided money to fund LGBT groups such as Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL, provided the maximum amount of $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee and the maximum amount of $2,500 to President Obama’s re-election campaign in the last election cycle. His fortune comes from his family, founders of Progressive Insurance.
Neither the White House nor the DNC responded to a request for comment on Lewis’ statement.
Lewis’ statement to the Blade builds off an op-ed piece he published on the same day in The Huffington Post, titled “No More Excuses: Mr. President,” in which he calls on Obama to issue the executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination as a way to make amends for the absence of UAFA in immigration reform.
The op-ed and the statement to the Blade come on the eve of the annual LGBT DNC gala held in New York City. This year, first lady Michelle Obama and gay NBA player Jason Collins are set to headline the event while “Love Song” singer Sara Bareilles will perform as the musical guest. It remains to be seen whether Lewis’ statements will have any impact on the funds that the DNC raises at the event.
But the anger at Senate Democrats isn’t universal among LGBT donors. Bruce Bastian, a gay Utah-based philanthropist known for his support of the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade via email he blames Republicans for the exclusion of UAFA from immigration reform and said his donations to Democrats will continue to flow.
“Like most if not all LGBT Americans, I am very disappointed that Republicans continue to define our relationships as ‘less’ than straight couples and have derailed the Uniting American Families amendment,” Bastian said. “But this is not the time to pull back in support of any kind. We are moving in the right direction. Those who do not want us to have full equality will continue to try to stop our momentum. I will continue to fight them with my time, effort and money.”
Still, one LGBT advocacy group that worked to include UAFA is saying Lewis’ sentiment is shared by others who’ve supported the Democratic Party.
Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said he’s heard from Democratic donors that they’re “rethinking the political contributions and priorities” following the exclusion of the amendment for gay couples from immigration reform, although he wasn’t immediately able to provide names.
“I can assure you that in private conversations, significant Democratic donors have had with our executive director and with other people working on this said they were very disappointed in what happened last week, and they’re looking at where they invest their donations moving forward,” Ralls said.
Ralls further pointed to the comments on Schumer’s Facebook page expressing anger over his refusal to back UAFA as part of immigration reform — along with warnings not to attend New York City Pride — as evidence this anger is felt not just by donors, but the LGBT community at large.
“There is palpable anger among the LGBT community in social media, in conversations that we’ve had with supporters,” Ralls said. “I do think there will be a political price for senators to pay.”