May 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Gay donor cuts off Dems over immigration bill
Jonathan Lewis, gay news, Washington Blade

Jonathan Lewis (Photo courtesy of Paul Yandura)

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.”

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

  • Kudos to Jonathan Lewis for using his influence as a major political donor to fight for LGBT rights other than marriage, marriage, marriage. If other major LGBT donors to the Democratic Party followed the example of this true progressive our whole community would be a lot better off. HRC Executive Board, are you paying attention?

  • Time to flex some muscle, not only withhold contributions, but also let them know you won't vote for them. Time to stick it to DIFI and those other cowardly democrats. If we supported an independent could they actually win?

  • Perhaps it’s time to yank all support from the HRC, their stupidity in thinking that we are so special as to deserve a place in the presidential cabinet simply because we are gay, we make up < 5% of the population. Time to get real, don't support stupidity.

  • He's a complete idiot if he thinks LGBT-inclusive immigration legislation would pass. The GOP made it crystal clear that they would block that from happening. It's as if people forget that the Dems don't have the needed numbers to just pass something without cooperation from Republicans. Personally, I'd rather SOME immigration legislation get passed (even if it, unfortunately, isn't LGBT-inclusive) than none.

  • CHILD BYE!!! Who does this Man thinks he’s hurting? Romney and Patrick Mara would have Oh passed so many things for the gays by now…LOL ! Simply atrocious. As if his donations are going to hurt them? Trust in the long run the only ones who will be hurting is The LGBTQ Community!

  • Democrats, especially Obama, have done everything imaginable to push through our gay agenda. And if we don't get 100,000% of everything we demand, we pack our toys up and go home. REAL MATURE

    • Everything imaginable? You're joking, right? Despite running on fighting for ENDA in '08 (see his Nov. '07 op-ed for LGBT media on the topic here: ), Obama has done nothing, zip, zero, to help protect our jobs.

      Let's not forget that we've been waiting for Democrats to find the spine to fight for and pass a law protecting LGBT workplace rights for over 40 years now.

      Let's also not forget that when they actually had the best chance in nearly a generation to get ENDA passed, in the 111th Congress, the Democrats couldn't be bothered to bring the bill up for a vote in either house and the White House remained silent throughout.

      Just how much longer do you think we should be willing to wait for Obama and the Democrats to get their act together? I don't know about you, but I'd like my basic civil rights as an American citizen while I'm still young enough to enjoy them.

      It's time to stop accepting excuses from these people and start demanding results.

    • Obama has done the bare minimum and he had to be hag ridden to do that. The Democrats are insipid. We are always calling conservatives, "stupid" "rednecks" and "inbreds," but all of the Democrats who are so smart are always good at rationalizing their own futility. Meanwhile Eric Holder and Obama have not had to evolve on extending the Patriot Act, surveillance for citizens, faculty e-mails, harassing AP reporters for violating the Espionage Act………Yeah, this is a lack of will and fortitude. ALL of the advances for equal protection of gay citizens have been because of gay advocates, who won't get their names in the papers….you know, the people we call shrill and ungrateful because they won't sit down and just be satisfied that our "allies" are impotent.

      • THE BARE MINIMUM????? I get some of you white gays will NEVER credit him NEVER. If you think Hillary will be any better I have the next winning lottery ticket for you!

    • "We are always calling …" I don't call other human beings those things and nor does any decent Democrat. The Democratic Party I know stands up for less formally educated Americans, laborers and the disadvantaged. If those are terms you use towards other people, I think you also might be better off outside the Democratic Party.

  • I totally disagree with this strategy. It's called cutting off the nose to spite the face. Put the blame on our broken political system and Republican obstructionists, not our allies. Just what would this out of touch Gay donor have them do? Do we believe Gay rights are more important than the rights of others? Ask any older African American about the process. It take patience, perseverance, compassion and intelligence. I do not expect my Hispanic friends to wait longer because of homophobia on the right. We should be gracious as we plan our strategy for inclusion at a later date. That date will not come if we throw the baby out with the bathwater. In the bigger picture, the only important thing is winning big in 2014. Nothing else!

  • P.S.
    This is one more example of why we need to get money out of politics!

  • I can’t imagine better news than Jonathan Lewis and the other self-centered supermillionaires exiting from the Democratic Party. They represent nothing but their fat checkbooks and fatter egos. Maybe he will now use his money to join the opera board where he can meet some divas equal to his self-image. Good-bye Jonathan!!

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