The argument made by the more cautious of the Democratic establishment is that the President cannot come out for marriage equality, even though nobody buys his current posture, because it would hurt him with a sliver of votes in November, enough to make a difference in some swing states. They usually bring up Virginia and North Carolina, where a ballot measure today banning marriage equality in the state Constitution is likely to pass (though many voters don’t really understand the ballot question, some polls show).
This neglects the fact that there’s another side to all of this. It’s not merely about votes, but about an important base of support, one that has provided enthusiasm, volunteer hours, and most important, fundraising dollars. It can be said credibly that LGBT fundraising has replaced Wall Street as a vein of support for the Obama campaign; that’s not really an overstatement. And the equivocation and confusing rhetoric on this and other gay rights issues has depressed that support. In some cases, it has closed up that well of support.
Some leading gay and progressive donors are so angry over President Obama’s refusal to sign an executive order barring same sex discrimination by federal contractors that they are refusing to give any more money to the pro-Obama super PAC, a top gay fundraiser’s office tells me. In some cases, I’m told, big donations are being withheld.
Jonathan Lewis, the gay philanthropist and leading Democratic fundraiser, is one of many gay advocates who has been working behind the scenes to pressure Obama to change his mind. When Obama decided against the executive order last month, arguing that he would pursue a legislative solution instead, advocates were furious — such a solution will never pass Congress, the executive order has been a priority for advocates for years, and the move smacked of a political cave to conservatives who will not support Obama no matter what he does.
Now these and other donors are beginning to withold money from Priorities USA, the main pro-Obama super PAC, out of dismay over the president’s decision. (Some of these donors have already maxed out to the Obama campaign, I’m told.) It’s the first indication that areas in which Obama is at odds with gay advocates — and in fairness, his record on gay rights has been very good — could dampen overall fundraising.
The executive order is a separate issue from marriage equality. But the same universe of activists and funders are impacted by it. The presence of this well of support from rich LGBT donors, in fact, has driven the campaign to play footsie with marriage equality in their bumbling way. But if they want to seek that support, they have to earn it. And the LGBT activist community has figured out how to move the Administration on key issues. Donor boycotts have been part of the mix. So have direct action challenges, including the pressure Firedoglake is putting on Congresspeople who’ve gotten donations in the past.
This has the potential to not only embarrass the President and his re-election campaign, but create a legitimate consequence for failing to deliver on key gay rights priorities. So that has to be taken into account whenever assessing the strategy of the continuing “evolution” on marriage equality. So does the fact that, since it’s such a transparent dodge, it undermines the President on the same kind of character issues he will attempt to use against Mitt Romney in November. It’s harder to cast your opponent as a flip-flopping creature of political expediency, with this issue displaying the exact same nature hanging out there.