By DAVID SHARP
PORTLAND, Maine – Despite other races on the ballot, both supporters and opponents of gay marriage say fundraising won’t be a problem if the issue goes to statewide referendum next November.
The 2012 campaign cycle will be awash with money, observers say, but many of those dollars will be going to the presidential campaign and other high-profile races. Nonetheless, both sides believe they’d be able to get what they need if another battle over gay marriage is waged in Maine.
Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, which supports gay marriage, said her group would need $4 million to $5 million if the campaign was similar to the last one.
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, isn’t saying how much money would be needed to get out its message. But Maggie Gallagher, NOM’s chairman and co-founder, said raising money for Maine wouldn’t be a problem. The organization plans to raise $20 million this year in U.S.
“We’ve won 31 out of 31 times when this has been taken to the state. We’d be optimistic about winning again if they want to put Maine through another campaign,” Gallagher said.
Maine voters in 2009 overturned a bill passed by the Legislature that would have legalized the practice. Thirty other states have passed amendments banning gay marriage.
Last month, gay marriage advocates announced that they’d be gathering signatures necessary to put the measure to a state vote again in Maine. Smith said she believes enough people have changed their minds that the outcome would be different in November 2012.
But supporters are waiting until January to decide whether they’ll submit the signatures and put the measure to a statewide vote.
Campaign finance reports show that the two sides in the ballot fight that overturned Maine’s gay marriage law spent $9.6 million in 2009. Those seeking to revoke the gay marriage law spent $3.8 million, while supporters of the gay marriage law spent $5.8 million.
Gallagher said she believes same-sex marriage supporters are testing the waters for fundraising and organizing tactics before proceeding. Smith said petition-gatherers are continuing one-on-one conversations aimed at changing the minds of voters who opposed gay marriage last time around.
Smith said gay marriage supporters are enthusiastic, but they’re also cautious about moving forward so soon after a stinging defeat in 2009.
“The support has been overwhelming from our supporters. The nervousness is no one wants to lose again. We don’t want to lose again, either,” she said. “We wouldn’t be going forward if we didn’t think we had a chance to win.”
Bob Emrich, chairman of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said he doesn’t think much has changed since the last campaign. He thinks the same people feel the same way about marriage as they did less than two year ago. “There’s nothing new to bring to the debate,” he said.
As for money, Emrich said it’ll be a challenge. “It was tough raising money last time and it will be this time. There’s only a limited amount of funds out there, so it’s tough to raise the kind of money that’ll be necessary.”
The National Organization for Marriage already has committed $2 million to defeat three Democratic and four Republican legislators in New York who were once opposed to gay marriage but then changed their minds and provided the margin for legalizing it on June 24 in that state. The organization is seeking a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage.
Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine, said there’ll be lots of money because of the presidential race and Sen. Olympia Snowe being up for re-election.
But he said it’s too early for anyone to be able to say with any type of certainty what the fundraising landscape will look like for gay marriage.
“What we’re going to see in 2012 is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen in terms of money. The question is what does that mean in a relatively small state like Maine in terms of bringing in money? My guess is that both sides of the issue will be able to raise the money they need,” he said.