November 14, 2012 at 8:19 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Wolfson’s comments on Md. marriage campaign ‘a big fat lie’
Evan Wolfson

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

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson’s post-Election Day comments about the role his organization played in the pro-Question 6 campaign raised more than a few eyebrows among Maryland’s same-sex marriage advocates.

“We took the lead on raising early money for three of the four states and left others to do the same in Maryland,” he told the Baltimore Sun in an article published on Nov. 10. “When it became clear that others had not stepped up, Freedom to Marry stepped up again. We always thought Maryland could do it.”

One advocate familiar with the Maryland campaign, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, blasted Wolfson’s remarks.

“That quote was a big fat lie,” the source said. “Evan did everything within his power to make fundraising for the Maryland campaign difficult if not impossible. He was constantly speaking to national donors telling them that the Maryland campaign couldn’t win. So for him to now recreate history is the height of hypocrisy.”

Freedom to Marry said in a Nov. 7 press release it had contributed $7 million to the four statewide marriage campaigns during this election cycle. This figure includes $4.6 million in cash and in-kind contributions and $2.4 million that funded public education efforts.

A campaign finance report filed with Maine election officials on Oct. 24 indicates the Freedom to Marry Maine PAC gave $1,201,104.84 in cash and $34,645.19 in in-kind donations to the pro-Question 1 campaign. Freedom to Marry Minnesota PAC donated $866,406.56 in cash and $26,838.51 in-kind donations to the campaign opposed to a state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, according to an Oct. 24 campaign finance report.

A series of “National Engagement Parties” that took place in D.C., New York, San Francisco and other cities across the country last month raised $500,000 for the statewide marriage campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

Freedom to Marry initially declined to join the coalition of groups defending Maryland’s same-sex law, but it formed a political action committee in September that allowed it to contribute to the pro-Question 6 effort.

A campaign finance report filed with Maryland election officials on Oct. 13 indicates the Freedom to Marry Maryland PAC gave $30,000 to the NAACP National Voter Fund for Question 6. Josh Levin, campaign manager of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, acknowledged to the Washington Blade during a post-election interview the $70,000 Freedom to Marry contributed in the final days of the campaign allowed a radio ad highlighting President Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples to air.

The Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $1.5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the pro-Question 6 campaign.

“Certainly we had been in touch with them all year and I was glad that they did decide to come in and make some contributions at the end,” Levin said when asked about Freedom to Marry’s contributions to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. “There are folks over there who have been working on this issue for a long time, but I think what we realized early on was that we were going to have to chart our own path here in Maryland and we were going to have to raise much of the money in-state, which we did.

“And I think we realized too that the message that Freedom to Marry was using and that they used successfully in the other three states was not quite the right one for Maryland. And I think the results bear that out. We focused on doing our research and we had a team of folks who really knew Maryland, but who also had been working on marriage and equality issues for a long time, but who also knew Maryland. And I think because of that we were able to come up with a strategy that worked here. I’m very glad that we did because we saw it resonate.”

Gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) echoed Levin’s remarks. He noted to the Blade that Freedom to Marry contributed “about 2 percent of the resources that we had.”

“It’s fortunate HRC was willing to say this is something worth engaging in and funding,” said Madaleno. “I was surprised to see Evan’s quotes in the Sun and can only hope that it was — something was lost in the interview process. While I think Freedom to Marry can claim credit for helping us be in the position to win all four states, I don’t think they can be in a position to claim credit for the win in Maryland, not certainly like HRC.”

Wolfson sought to clarify his comments in a letter-to-the-editor he submitted to the Baltimore Sun on Nov. 12.

“I regret some unintended implications in my quotes in Saturday’s story regarding the freedom to marry win in Maryland,” he wrote.

Wolfson told the Blade in a statement on Tuesday that Freedom to Marry “invested $200,000 in the 2011-2012 push to win marriage in Maryland, building on years of support and engagement over several rounds.” He added his organization is “proud to have contributed in big ways and small, public and unsung, as part of what we all did right to move Maryland to the right side of history.”

“And whatever the occasional disagreements, we owe a huge debt of thanks to the local leaders and families, campaign manager Josh Levin and his team, Gov. [Martin] O’Malley and key lawmakers, Equality Maryland, Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, the NAACP, Republicans and Democrats, and the many, many volunteers and voices who joined in making the case to voters that led to victory in Maryland alongside our movement’s wins in other states,” said Wolfson.

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

  • It was very clear that Evan Wolfson and Freedom to Marry didn’t think that Maryland was worth investing in until late in the game. I blogged about it as did many others as they sat on the sidelines. I appreciate that as things looked up for Maryland they joined the fight. But this is not one they can take credit for. But the reality is that these fights belong to the entire community not any one organization and Maryland was clearly a community win.

  • I echo Peter Rosenstein’s comment regarding where credit for victory lies. That said, I am friendly with one of FTM’s board members who is an outstanding ally to our community and I expressed my dismay at Wolfson’s insular attitude. I reminded the FTM board member of the Iowa win where the self declared LGBT leaders initially scoffed at the news of Iowa’s readiness for equality. We all know that It took an ally to kick that door down. After the Maryland win, my self congratulatory message to the board member was to tell Wolfson that regardless of the odds, “never not do that ever again or his own job will end”. We rise together or we fall together.

  • Two things are clear: One, FTM and Evan are heroes. We would not have won in 3 of the 4 states without them, simple as that. Two, they made a bad call on Maryland.

    What is unclear is why the initial call not to get involved in MD persisted even after the polling improved by the summer. By the summer and thereafter, MD’s polling was very encouraging, and was certainly better than MN’s polling. At that point, it would have made sense to rethink FTM’s initial decision. Moreover, even after they did get involved, they tried to stay away from the main PAC and instead help the NAACP’s PAC. This suggests that this is all a result of some sort of turf war or tiff between HRC and FTM. It would be good to just get it out and stop with the endless spinning on both sides. But whether they decide to be forthcoming or not, whatever caused this rift in MD should never happen again. We easily could have lost MD as the result of this. Don’t repeat it.

  • When the MD marriage rights law was first put to referendum, it really seemed, even to some of us who have been activists for a long time in the state, that Evan Wolfson was right to see great odds against us winning a popular vote here. We’ve seen firsthand the desperate and hateful determination of those against us to do everything possible to deny us our rights in the courts, legislature, and ballot box. None of us should claim now that “we knew it all along” that we would win…we didn’t. The real credit belongs to those who knew this but kept right on going anyway. People like Josh Levin and many others who took up the battle and never wavered, they will always be our heroes.

  • Great ending point (Dee November 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm)

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