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Strategies differ in marriage-amendment finance reporting — and spin

Caution is advised in interpreting how reports — and the two sides’ spin on them — translate into voting power.

The question of whether the Minnesota constitution should be amended to bar gay marriage is attracting plenty of money on both sides.
REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Potential candidates for political office are routinely taught to make their first campaign act to dig out their Christmas card list and start asking intimates and acquaintances alike for money — “Anything, $5, $10, more if you are able,” is often how the “ask” goes at that stage.

Why? Because numbers suggest electability, and electability suggests bankability, and the earlier one is able to set off the chain reaction the bigger the bank.

Case in point: EMILY’s List, the national women’s PAC, isn’t named after anyone named Emily, it’s an acronym for Early Money is Like Yeast.

Different messaging

In terms of their messaging to the public, the groups campaigning for and against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota have settled into a groove on this one. The vote-no forces have been quick to circulate big numbers from their required campaign finance reports, while the vote-yes camp leans on the number of people who have signaled their support, often by clicking on Internet ads.

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The takeaway for the voting public: Interpretive caution is advised.

In keeping with a law that requires campaigns to make several pre-primary disclosures, both sides filed two separate reports with the Board of Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure in July.

‘Grassroots army’

On July 18, the main vote-yes group, Minnesota for Marriage (MFM), issued a press release heralding its report. “The key to victory is our growing grassroots army,” it noted. “Over 68,000 people have responded to our campaign and signed on as supporters to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment. Over 1,500 individuals have made financial contributions to the effort, with the number of donors growing daily. It’s exciting to watch our momentum build. We are confident this momentum will carry us to victory.”

On Tuesday, the group released a similar statement: “This latest report reflects the continued growth in small to mid-size donors, in addition to a surge in grassroots support. An additional 20,000 supporters signed on to pass the Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment since mid-July, increasing grassroots support for the campaign from 68,000 to 88,000 in less than one month.”

MFM’s disclosure reports, however, say something different. The July 18 report, which tabulated donations made through July 10, listed 53 individual donors. By July 23, according to the report filed this week, the number had moved to 63. MFM reported total contributions of $626,000 through July 23.

In both cases, three institutional supporters have supplied the lion’s share of the financing: the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

The Catholic Conference’s report lists $285,000 in donations from several Minnesota dioceses and church groups as well as a number of Knights of Columbus chapters.

NOM doesn’t name contributors

Neither of the other groups’ first and second disclosures differed in terms of funds raised. The Family Council reported five donors, two of whom were individuals. NOM, which has steadfastly refused to comply with campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure laws throughout the country, has not named any of its contributors.  

The Campaign Finance Board recently opined that the Family Council does not have to report its donors, reasoning that its “major purpose” is not necessarily campaigning to bar same-sex marriage. A companion complaint against NOM, filed by Common Cause of Minnesota, has yet to be decided.

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The vote-no breakdown

Vote-no coalition Minnesotans United for All Families, by contrast, circulated a breakdown of its contributions — no doubt intended to highlight the difference. From July 11 to July 23, it received contributions from 2,965 individual donors. All told, since Jan. 1 of this year, it has received $4.26 million from 21,806 individual donors, more than 90 percent of whom are Minnesota residents.

So, what’s more powerful at the end of the day, deep pockets or the aforementioned “grassroots army”? Again, caution is advised.

For starters, if it follows the pattern set in other states where marriage amendments have been on the ballot, the vote-yes campaign is likely to get an infusion of out-of-state cash in the fall when an advertising blitz is expected.

At the same time, in other states vote-no camps have outspent the opposition and still lost badly.

And finally, polls gauging support for the amendment have waffled considerably in recent weeks.