Jan 30, 2013
* Urgent call to donors ahead of March Supreme Court arguments
* Mormon fundraising falls off after 2008 California battle
* Big donor sees "intensity of anger" over gay marriage issue
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Foes of same-sex marriage are laboring to pay the tab for an epic legal case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, as the movement suffers from fundraising shortfalls that could sap its strength in future battles.
ProtectMarriage.com, the advocacy group defending a California gay marriage ban now under review by the high court, showed a $2 million deficit in its legal fund at the end of 2011 - the third year in a row that expenses exceeded donations, federal tax records show.
The 2012 accounts are not yet available. ProtectMarriage.com says it has since covered the 2011 shortfall. However, it is still $700,000 short in fundraising for its Supreme Court costs, according to a ProtectMarriage.com attorney, Andrew Pugno. That message has gone out to donors, with some urgency, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in March in its first thorough review of same-sex marriage.
"Unless the pace of donations starts to pick up right away, we could soon be forced over a financial cliff," ProtectMarriage.com said in an email to donors earlier this month.
ProtectMarriage.com's lead outside counsel, Charles Cooper, has not stopped work on the Supreme Court case, although he declined to comment on financial arrangements with clients.
But gay marriage opponents' money problems go beyond legal fees for the landmark case: they were vastly outspent in four state ballot campaigns last fall, and lost all of those races.
While the best case for gay marriage opponents is that it becomes a state-by-state battle, that is a potentially grueling, expensive proposition for both sides, in which fundraising would be critical.
In Washington state, for instance, gay marriage opponents raised $2.8 million, compared with $12.6 million for gay marriage supporters. That's a dramatic shift from the 2008 electoral battle over California's Proposition 8, the state's ban on gay marriage, when ProtectMarriage.com took in $40 million to nearly match its opponents, and went on to win.
The fund-raising fall-off is a result of donor fatigue, the dramatic rise in public support for gay marriage and the softening of some major gay marriage opponents, including the Mormon Church, people involved with the campaigns say. Both individuals and institutions opposed to gay marriage say many are fearful of being associated with the cause.
"On the New York cocktail party circuit, the intensity of anger over the marriage issue has made being pro-life easy," said Sean Fieler, who runs the New York City hedge fund Equinox Partners. Fieler has donated over $1 million to gay marriage opponents such as the National Organization for Marriage.
The Supreme Court will review both the Proposition 8 case and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. A ruling is expected by the end of June.
A group of corporations opposed to DOMA has formed the Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal, including Marriott International Inc, Aetna Inc, eBay Inc, and Thomson Reuters Corp, the corporate parent of Reuters News.
If the high court recognizes a constitutional right to marriage, then California's Prop 8 and other state bans would be abolished, along with DOMA's core. However, the high court could avoid addressing the fundamental issue of a constitutional right to marriage by ruling that it's a matter for states to decide.
Pugno says that fundraising for ProtectMarriage.com has never been easy. However, he said he does not think changing attitudes are the problem.
"I don't detect a decrease in enthusiasm," he said. "What I detect is a certain degree of fatigue after having to essentially fight this issue non-stop since 2004, when the mayor in San Francisco started issuing marriage licenses."
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