September 21, 2012 at 8:08 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Freedom to Marry changes course, launches Md. marriage PAC
Evan Wolfson

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade has learned that Freedom to Marry has formed a political action committee that will allow it to raise money to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law, a change of course from earlier this year when the organization declined to join the coalition of groups defending the law.

Maryland State Board of Elections records indicate that the Freedom to Marry Maryland PAC with Teresa Williams of Cheverly as its chair was registered on Sept. 18. Williams’ partner, Jo Deutsch, who is Freedom to Marry’s federal director in D.C., is the PAC’s treasurer. Former Equality Maryland Board President Scott Davenport, who is Freedom to Marry’s COO, is listed as its deputy treasurer.

Maryland law requires that all PAC officers are registered to vote in the state.

“The PAC is basically a legal mechanism that’s required for reporting certain kinds of contributions so we really just have set it up to be able to do what we want to do consistent with the reporting legal requirements,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson told the Blade. “Freedom to Marry has all along been assisting the campaign and providing certain kinds of help, and now obviously we’re all in the home stretch on these four ballot measures [in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington]. And we all need to step up and do as much as we can to win as many of them as we can so we just really wanted to have the legal mechanism ready to basically keep helping and hopefully do more even as we focus on the states where we’ve also been pushing to get the victory that is our number one priority for the end of the year.”

The PAC’s registration comes in spite of Freedom to Marry’s announcement last year that it would not join the coalition of groups defending Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.

“Freedom to Marry has made it clear to members of the coalition and to lawmakers that our goal is to win, not simply to pass a bill, if there is not sufficient groundwork and investment in a campaign to win at the ballot,” Wolfson told the Blade earlier this year. “We have continued to press for clarity and progress on benchmarks for success, and have urged elected officials, national organizations, and advocates on the ground to show the plan, investment, and activities needed now to build public support and succeed at the ballot, not just the legislature.”

Wolfson told the Blade last month that Freedom to Marry has provided what he described as a “huge amount of messaging, research and experience and council” to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. He said his group has also invited Marylanders for Marriage Equality to take part in “regular calls” between the four campaign managers to “coordinate and share best practices, brainstorm and problem solve.”

Freedom to Marry announced in August that its contributions to same-sex ballot measures in Maine and Washington and the campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in Minnesota through its Win More States Fund had topped $3 million. It hopes to raise an additional $10 million for these campaigns by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a Freedom to Marry press release on Sept. 7 that announced a series of house parties that will take place across the country on Oct. 13 to raise funds for statewide same-sex marriage campaigns specifically cites Maryland as among the states with ballot measures. These include one that will take place at former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman’s Manhattan home, according to BuzzFeed.

Wolfson said that observers should not read too much into the timing of the PAC’s registration, which comes less than two months before the referendum on the law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed in March. It also coincides with the Sept. 13 fundraiser for Marylanders for Marriage Equality in New York City at which the governor spoke.

“We believe there’s a pathway to win in Maryland and it’s going to take a lot more effort and significantly more resources and using the time to make the case,” said Wolfson when asked about the effectiveness of the campaign to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law. “If we all step up and do that whether in Maryland or in the other states we can hope to have the victory in one or more states that we at Freedom to Marry have prioritized as our remaining goal in 2012.”

Josh Levin, campaign director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, described Freedom to Marry’s involvement as “a vote of confidence.”

“Happy to finally make Maryland an ‘all hands on deck’ state like it should be,” added Fred Sainz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the group that had given Marylanders for Marriage Equality $723,000 in cash and in-kind donations as of Aug. 6. HRC also contributed $853,000 to the legislative campaign to secure passage of the state’s same-sex marriage law earlier this year. “We value Freedom to Marry as a partner and are delighted that they’ll be engaged in the effort to protect marriage equality in Maryland.”

Lisa Polyak, who, along with her partner of more than 30 years, Gita Deane, became the lead plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage lawsuit that Equality Maryland and the American Civil Liberties Union filed in 2004, also responded.

“Gita and I welcome Freedom to Marry’s increasing participation in the struggle to keep full marriage equality in Maryland,” Polyak told the Blade. “We know that they’ve been helpful in the past. We were surprised and disappointed that they weren’t more involved in this year’s effort to pass the marriage equality bill, especially since they seemed to be working hard in other states trying to pass a marriage law or manage a ballot referendum.  But there is no question: We need all hands on deck at this time.”

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

  • Wow, Freedom to Marry is so sketchy. I wouldn’t trust Wolfson for a minute. HRC and Marylanders for Marriage Equality have to be diplomatic in order to show a united front but I bet in private that are seething that after publicly abandoning the fight in the spring, FTM is swooping in at the last minute in order to claim some credit. Now that the fight in Maryland is looking more and more like a win, FTM has invited itself to the table. At least Fred Sanz took a subtle jab in his quote praising FTM – and Lisa Polyak flat out noted FTM did not do much in MD.

  • I wish Evan and his FTM group would post their IRS 990s on their site. To their credit, the folks at HRC share four years of 990s available on their site for anyone to read at any time. Not so with FTM. Evan insists that folks submit a written request to view his 990s. A group can’t claim to be transparent and not post their tax returns on their site.

  • Funny that Mr. Wolfson is now hedging his bets. We welcome the help but joining in the fight when you know you can win is very shady.

  • Freedom to Marry’s abandonment of Maryland during this crucial year in the Maryland legislature and ballot referendum is unconscionable. It’s not like there are 44 states trying to deal with a ballot measure and FTM had to worry about being spread too thin — there are only 4 !! In addition to FTM’s messaging publically and privately (to the donor community) to stay out of Maryland — they have been holding fundraisers in Maryland’s backyard (DC), and inviting Maryland residents to raise money for Maine, Minnesota and Washington — but none for Maryland. It would be different if FTM had a broad mission and marriage equality was just one advocacy issue — but its their ONLY mission. How in the world can they justify abandoning one of the few states where that is even still a possibility. Everyone know that polling results overstate actual voter performance. If Maryland loses the ballot referendum by some slim margin — we will all have to wonder what might have been if only FTM hadn’t stood on the sidelines. It’s not even clear what it is that FTM plans to do to help in these last few weeks. More phonecons ? More “strategic advice” ?

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