April 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Gay congressional candidates raking in cash

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin attended a congressional campaign fundraiser Tuesday at Mova for David Cicilline, the gay Democratic mayor of Providence, R.I. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Non-incumbent gay candidates running for Congress are generally doing a good job of raising money, according to the reported receipts the Federal Election Commission made public after the first quarter of this year.

For the first quarter of 2010, David Cicilline, the gay Democratic mayor of Providence, R.I., has had marked success in fundraising to support his congressional bid. After announcing his candidacy to represent Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district earlier this year, Cicilline has raked in $725,078 for his war chest.

Comparatively, Bill Lynch, a former Rhode Island Democratic Party chair who’s challenging Cicilline for the party nomination, has raised $230,485. John Loughlin, a Republican candidate, has raised $333,763.

Sean Theriault, a gay government professor at the University of Texas, Austin, said Cicilline “looks to be in great shape” heading into the election.

“I would be surprised if he isn’t welcomed into the [LGBT Equality] Caucus after the November elections,” he said.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said the amount of money Cicilline has raised is “hugely significant.”

“This is an open seat and part of the calculus about who’s going to be considered a frontrunner is the ability to fundraise,” Dison said.

For cash on hand, or the amount of money remaining after expenditures in the race, the margin between Cicilline and his Republican opponent is even more pronounced: the Providence mayor has $713,346; Loughlin has $187,537.

“That’s a sign to other donors and to the political establishment that Mayor Cicilline is prepared to fight and win this,” Dison said.

Notable donations to Cicilline’s campaign include $2,400 from the Victory Fund as well as $1,000 from gay lawmaker Rep. Jared Polis’ (D-Colo.) political action committee.

The Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed Cicilline, also contributed to the campaign. Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, said his organization has made $6,000 in direct contributions to the campaign.

“Additionally, we are likely to contribute the full $10,000 allowed by law through a combination of direct and in-kind contributions by the election,” Cole said.

Cicilline’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on his fundraising numbers.

In the race for California’s 45th congressional district, the gay Democrat running for office has also amassed a sizeable war chest, although not as much as the Republican incumbent he’s trying to oust.

Steve Pougnet, the mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., has raised $867,614 in his bid to unseat Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R), who’s raised $1,330,183 to hold on to her seat.

Notable donors to Pougnet include the Victory Fund, which gave $2,400 to his campaign, and Polis, whose PAC contributed $2,000.

Jordan Marks, Pougnet’s campaign manager, said he thinks the fundraising numbers place the candidate in a “great position.”

In the first quarter of 2010, Marks said Pougnet raised about the same amount that Bono Mack raised for her campaign, even though she’s an incumbent. Marks noted that Pougnet raised $304,000 and Bono Mack raised around $320,000 in that time period.

“This quarter is, by far, our best quarter so far,” Marks said. “This quarter proved that for certain we will have the resources that we need to run a really credible campaign, talk about the differences between us and our opponent, and really give the voters an opportunity to make a clear choice.”

Based on the fundraising numbers, Theriault said Pougnet would “be in the hunt” to claim Bono Mack’s seat. But given the challenges that Democrats are expected to face in this year’s election, Theriault wasn’t optimistic about Pougnet’s chances.

“If this were 2006 or 2008, Congresswoman Bono [Mack] would be in serious trouble,” Theriault said. “I suspect that the political winds may save her this time.”

Support for Pougnet among LGBT groups isn’t universal. The Log Cabin Republicans is backing Bono Mack in the race and last year contributed $1,500 to her campaign.

Charles Moran, a Log Cabin spokesperson, said his organization is supporting Bono Mack because the Republican lawmaker voted with the LGBT community when her support was needed. Bono Mack twice voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment and voted in favor of hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“We’ve got longstanding relationships with Mary Bono Mack and she’s backed [us] up on a lot of different issues when we’ve needed it,” he said. “We’re proud and have no problem supporting Mary in this race. It was a no-brainer.”

Still, Bono Mack has been criticized for not taking a position on California’s Proposition 8 when it came before state lawmakers and for refraining from endorsing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Noting that Bono Mack amassed more than $1 million in campaign funds, Moran said the lawmaker is “doing well” and that she’s among the best people in the country working to raise money for her campaign.

“It doesn’t really surprise me that her numbers came out so strongly in the fundraising world,” Moran said.

Moran said he expects to see another contribution from Log Cabin to Bono Mack as the general election approaches — although he’s unsure of the amount — and that members of Log Cabin are making individual contributions to her campaign.

HRC hasn’t made an endorsement in the race for California’s 45th congressional district.

Another gay Democrat is running to represent New Jersey’s 7th congressional district in the upcoming election. Ed Potosnak, a former schoolteacher and staffer for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), is attempting to oust Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) from his seat.

The first quarter filings reveal that Potosnak has raised $81,007, while Lance has received $772,440 in fundraising. The difference between the two candidates is less pronounced for cash on hand: Potosnak has $64,397 and Lance has $473,880.

Potosnak said he’s “extremely energized and proud” of the support his campaign has received.

“I project a strong showing in the second quarter to advance our positive message,” Potosnak said. “I’m pretty confident that with additional support from our community, we can and we will make up for that difference.”

Noting that he’s unopposed in his Democratic primary, Potosnak said Lance has several challengers in his Republican primary that would “likely deplete his campaign funds” as Lance progresses toward the general election.

The Victory Fund hasn’t made a decision to endorse Potosnak. Dison said he couldn’t comment on the candidate’s fundraising numbers because his organization hasn’t made an endorsement.

Theriault said Potosnak’s numbers don’t bode well for his prospects.

“In today’s political climate, a Democratic challenger needs at least $500,000 to be even a legitimate candidate against a Republican incumbent,” Theriault said. “Mr. Potosnak is about six times short that amount.”

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

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