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How the vote-yes side on marriage amendment has been spending its money

According to documents filed last week, Minnesota for Marriage has spent virtually all of the $2 million raised so far and has incurred a number of debts.

Reports indicate that Minnesotans for Marriage has spent nearly all of the $2 million it has raised so far, including expenditures for billboard advertisements.
Courtesy of Minnesotans for Marriage

Minnesota voters most likely will go to the polls next month knowing very little about the financing behind the group campaigning to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In recent days, however, they’ve gained some clues to how the vote-yes campaign is spending its money.

According to documents filed last week [PDF] with state campaign finance officials, Minnesota for Marriage has spent virtually all of the $2 million raised so far and has incurred a number of debts.

And it had yet to purchase TV air time for an expected barrage of advertising, an expenditure that may have taken place after the deadline for filing its most recent disclosure statement with the state Board of Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure. A few vote-no ads are already airing locally; a barrage is expected to begin airing in mid-October.

The disclosures filed last week give the vote-no coalition, Minnesotans United for All Families, a 4-to-1 fundraising advantage but fail to tell the whole story. In the 31 other states where NOM has funded groups like Minnesotans for Marriage, it has poured millions into advertising campaigns at the 11th hour. Like the identities of the donors, the extent of the spending is not known until well after the elections.

Fought disclosure

The vote-yes groups have fought against disclosing their sources of funding as hard in Minnesota as anywhere else, with a tremendous degree of success. The new expenditure report suggests it’s a fight they’ve been willing to spend handsomely to wage.

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Since January of this year, Minnesota for Marriage incurred legal bills of $117,000 from the legal wing of ActRight, a campaign finance group run by Brian Brown, who is also president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which has waged battles throughout the country to keep secret its donors’ indentifies.

The disclosures show three transactions between Minnesota for Marriage and ActRight, all occurring on Aug. 30: A payment of nearly $51,000, a debt in the same amount and another payment of $15,000 for the group but made by Alliance Defending Freedom.

Formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, the Alliance Defending Freedom has underwritten dozens of legal challenges to the separation of church and state, abortion rights and, most notably, the landmark 2010 case Citizens United, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations and organizations could spend freely to influence the outcome of elections.

Until recently, NOM’s main legal counsel has been James Bopp, the Indiana lawyer behind Citizens United and the self-styled architect of a crusade to overturn campaign-finance and public-disclosure laws nationwide. Bopp has argued here for Minnesota for Marriage’s and NOM’s efforts to keep names of individual donors secret. Several of the attorneys who joined ActRight Legal Services earlier this year are former Bopp attorneys.

According to the American Independent, ActRight also supports NOM’s fundraising efforts. Its website allows visitors to donate to particular candidates or causes. Right now, it is directing contributions made by opponents of same-sex marriage to campaigns in the four states where there are related ballot questions.

$60,000 to Civis Communications

The vote-yes effort paid $60,000 to a Twin Cities firm, Civis Communications, for expenses and “contracted services.” Civis is owned by Deephaven resident and Primera Technology CEO Robert Cummins, whose track record for spending huge sums on far-right campaigns has prompted some observers to describe him as a GOP “stealth donor.” Banning same-sex marriage has been a priority for Cummins.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, between 2004 and 2007 Cummins gave $280,000 to a federal fund now known as Minnesota Majority, and gave $128,130 to Minnesota for Marriage in 2005 and 2006. Part of the money underwrote ads that attacked then-DFL Sen. Majority Leader Dean Johnson “for supporting a ‘radical homosexual agenda,’ and for blocking efforts to bring a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage to the chamber floor.”

Cummins has also given generously to the GOP’s state coffers, giving $425,000 in 2010. In 2009 and 2010, the party paid Civis Communications about $82,000, MPR reported. Cummins also helped to found the Freedom Club State PAC, which gave the party $400,000.

Also this year, Minnesota for Marriage paid $98,000 to Campaign Services of Alexandria, Va., an online campaign strategy concern that has worked on campaigns for Rep. Michele Bachmann, California’s Prop 8 and NOM, among others.

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Largest expenditure to national strategist

Another firm associated with Prop 8 and with NOM’s Minnesota efforts, Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, Calif., got $65,000 to conduct focus groups and tracking surveys. The Lansing, Mich.-based Sterling Corp., a Republican firm with experience in fundraising, ballot initiatives and strategy, got $65,000 for consulting, and Public Opinion Strategies, a voter-opinion research firm with a diverse roster of clients, got $18,000.

The biggest expenditure is the least surprising. Since January, Minnesota for Marriage has paid $332,000 for campaign-management services to strategist Frank Schubert and his new firm, Mission Public Affairs. Credited with crafting a strategy that has delivered 31 wins to same-sex-marriage foes nationwide in recent years, Schubert is best known for his skill at persuading undecided voters that voting not to ban gay marriage will have dire consequences for their parental rights, religious freedom and will open the door to a host of social ills.