By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Yes on 8” was only a few hundred thousand dollars ahead at the time, but considering the gay community’s close connections to wealth in Hollywood, it was a startling development that never reversed itself. Just four weeks later, according to the California secretary of state, “Yes on 8” had raised $16.2 million versus the $10.8 million raised by the “No on 8” camp.
Dale Kelly Bankhead, campaign manager for “No on 8,” sent an urgent e-mail to supporters on September 16. “We must match what is raised dollar for dollar with the right wing,” she wrote. “If we do not, we are at serious risk of losing this November.” Bankhead, who worked on the failed effort to defeat the ban in California in 2000, made an impassioned but slightly panicked open plea to receive $200,000 in the next 48 hours to somehow close the gap.
It didn’t work. Even though Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg each contributed $100,000, by October 7, “No on 8” had fallen nearly $10 million behind its opponents — $15.75 million to $25 million. In addition, a SurveyUSA poll, as well as an internal poll released by the “No on 8” campaign, showed support for Prop. 8 pulling ahead.
It was a dramatic collapse: For the entire summer and into early fall, the ballot measure was usually behind by more than 10 percentage points, according to the Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California.
In an October 7 e-mail to supporters, Geoff Kors, a member of the executive committee of “No on 8,” blamed the reverse on a highly effective TV ad by the “Yes on 8” campaign, which claimed churches could lose their tax-exemption status, people could be sued for their personal beliefs, and young children could be taught about gay marriage in public schools — as they are in Massachusetts classrooms, to the consternation of many angry parents — if Prop. 8 did not pass. The “Yes on 8” ad also used — to great effect — San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s infamous, loudly shouted claim that gay marriage is coming, “whether they like it or not!”
“Our worst nightmares are coming true,” Kors wrote to opponents of Prop. 8. “Today we learned of the massive $25.4 million our opponents have raised so far. They are using this war chest to broadcast lies: 24/7 and up and down the state of California. And the polls show the lies are working. We need your donation now.”
But the small donations the campaign had hoped for, in increments of $50 or so, just did not pour in to the “No on 8” campaign. And that wasn’t the only problem for Kors and the rest of the executive committee. By mid-September, according to Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center chief executive officer Lorri Jean, wealthy potential donors had still not stepped up with big infusions. “It’s not that people don’t want to give,” Jean told L.A. Weekly at the time, “they’re just giving elsewhere.” For example, Frontiers news editor Karen Ocamb revealed in a September 17 article in that magazine that openly gay and lesbian entertainers Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Gus Van Sant and Melissa Etheridge had failed to donate the kind of early money that can make or break a campaign, giving nothing as of September 10. DeGeneres, Van Sant and Etheridge subsequently gave large donations to “No on 8.”
Geoff Kors also told the Weekly that “competing campaigns” — mainly the presidential race — have steered money away, and the economic downturn has slowed down contributions. He said “No on 8” officials didn’t anticipate “the extent [the Mormon Church] would be funneling so much money into the [“Yes on 8”] campaign.”
In a recent interview with the Sacramento Bee, ProtectMarriage.com campaign manager Frank Schubert, who leads the “Yes on 8” effort, revealed how significantly the experts had underestimated Mormon interest in the measure. According to Schubert, individual members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the most family-oriented religions in the country, had donated nearly 40 percent of all contributions in support of Prop. 8.
Mark Paredes, the high counselor in the Mormon Church, believes that staggering number may be even higher.
“No on 8” was underfunded and outmatched. During an October 7 conference call with the press, Kors conceded that the lack of funds had left the movement unable to buy enough crucial TV ads, the best way to reach millions of voters in a very pricey California media market. The “Yes on 8” advertisement, which Kors blamed for an ugly shift in the polls, ran unchallenged by “No on 8” for at least a week — often a disastrous strategy for ballot measures.
The steady stream of bad news ultimately shook things up inside the “No on 8” campaign. By mid-October, campaign manager Dale Kelly Bankhead was quietly pushed aside, and former Log Cabin Republicans president Patrick Guerriero was installed as “campaign director” — a rich irony, since gay Republicans are often vilified by the leftist majority that dominates California gay politics. To take on the job, Guerriero took a temporary leave of absence from the Gill Action Fund, a highly influential and effective gay political fund-raising group, where he was executive director.