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MN marriage-amendment messaging takes page from CA’s Prop 8 campaign

Frank Schubert, whose firm produced the “princess ad” in California, has started a new company that’s managing ballot issues in several states.

Schubert Flint created the "princess ad” credited with helping to propel passage of California’s Prop 8.

Schubert Flint Public Relations issued a press release on Tuesday announcing that founder Frank Schubert was leaving the California firm he started nine years ago to open a new agency. His ideological work, the release explained, had threatened to overshadow the firm’s work on behalf of corporate clients.

According to the release, Schubert’s new concern, Mission: Public Affairs, will focus exclusively on conservative social issues and “is already engaged in managing ballot initiative campaigns in several states.”

It’s a good bet the campaign to amend Minnesota’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage is one of them. North Carolina, where there is also a marriage amendment on the ballot this year, is likely another.

Schubert Flint created the notorious “princess ad” credited with helping to propel passage of California’s Proposition 8, and similar, successful messaging campaigns [PDF] in other states. Both Minnesota for Marriage and the National Organization for Marriage, the main groups financing and campaigning in favor of the amendment, have strong ties to Schubert Flint.

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Despite numerous decisions by the state Board of Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure that NOM must reveal its funders, the group has refused to file financial reports. Common Cause of Minnesota filed a complaint in February that is unlikely to be resolved before voters decide this year’s referendum.

Minnesota group paid firm

The slim disclosure NOM’s local sister organization, Minnesota for Marriage, did file for 2011 shows it paid Schubert Flint $111,000 for campaign management services.

The campaign finance board rejected a separate complaint filed last year by Common Cause about the groups’ spending on political advertising in Minnesota, ruling that the ads were an attempt to influence an election and not the legislative process.

According to documents gathered by the board as part of its investigation into the earlier complaint, MOM and its member organization, the Minnesota Family Council, spent more than $700,000 on TV and radio ads in 2010. The spots called for a ballot question to be put before voters — arguably an attempt to influence the legislative process since it’s lawmakers’ purview to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot — and urged voters to elect GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer because of his opposition to gay marriage.

2010 messages in Minnesota

“The right to vote; the most sacred civil right,” one spot said. “Some politicians want to impose gay marriage in Minnesota without a vote.”

“Marriage in Minnesota is under attack,” another one insisted. “A lawsuit and 5 legislative bills were filed this year to impose gay marriage. Angry gay protestors want to force this issue on us no matter what.

“DFL nominee for governor Mark Dayton wants to impose same-sex marriage on Minnesota, as does independent Tom Horner,” it continued. “But Republican Tom Emmer wants to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

If Schubert Flint didn’t produce the ads, whoever did was following the firm’s model. The ads broadcast here mirror the themes in Schubert-produced commercials aired in California, Maine and Iowa: Without a constitutional ban, activist judges will impose gay marriage on citizens,  and young children will be indoctrinated in public schools.

Footage of ‘King and King’

Many of the spots show footage of “King and King,” the picture book at the center of the princess ad, in which a little girl rushes to tell her mother that she learned in school that a prince can marry a prince and she can marry a princess.

According to a 90-minute presentation Schubert made to the American Association of Political Consultants, the firm’s Prop 8 ads were the outgrowth of careful opinion surveying and message testing to learn what themes would sway the 10-15 percent of California voters who were open to being influenced.

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One key element: After hearing that many people felt unaffected by the nature of a relationship between two other individuals, the firm realized it had to attach consequences to gay marriage. Voters in California, where same-sex marriage was legal before Prop 8, might not yet realize their liberty was being infringed, Schubert said.

The resulting campaigns, emotionally charged images accompanied by questionable arguments that gay marriage actively takes rights away from heterosexuals, have proven very hard to combat.

‘Marriage Minute’ videos

The messages are already in circulation in Minnesota. Minnesota for Marriage is circulating “Marriage Minute” videos narrated by spokeswoman Kalley Yanta, a former KSTP anchor.

“Children at a very young age, as early as kindergarten, will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults, no matter what they have been taught at home, in church or in their ethnic traditions,” Yanta explains in one of the spots. “Under that kind of law, those who believe otherwise will be treated as racists and bigots.”

Yanta took another page from Schubert’s book in remarks published by the LGBT news site The Colu.mn: “If marriage between homosexuals is legalized, what would some of the consequences be? Parents who want to opt their kids out of the public school on the day that they’re teaching about homosexual relationships how it should be OK and accepted, and the parents are charged with discrimination and are hauled away sometimes in handcuffs. … We just can’t allow this to happen.”

Before Prop 8, Schubert Flint’s core business was creating and managing campaigns to influence public policy on behalf of corporations, trade groups and other organizations. It has campaigned throughout the country against a number of health-care-related initiatives, including prescription drug-purchasing reforms, and environmental protection initiatives and labor.

According to the LGBT publication The Advocate, some of the firm’s past clients are gay-friendly employers, which might help to explain why as of yesterday morning Schubert Flint’s website contained no mention of its ideological work.