May 27, 2018
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Question 1 sides spent $9.5M during campaign

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The full scope of this year’s fight over same-sex marriage in Maine became clear Tuesday with the release of new financial statements from organizations on both sides of the debate.

Filings to the Maine Ethics Commission, which tracks donations to and spending by political action committees and candidates, revealed that a total of $9,562,943 was spent by 24 political action committees on both sides of Question 1 on the November ballot, not including in-kind contributions.

Sixteen groups supporting same-sex marriage outspent eight opposing groups by nearly $2 million, racking up almost $5.8 million in expenses. Bob Emrich, leader of Stand for Maine Marriage, which spearheaded the victorious effort against same-sex marriage, said the numbers show that big money can’t cloud the judgment of Maine voters.

“No matter how much money was spent and however they tried to spin it, they wanted to change the definition of marriage and people don’t think that’s a good idea,” Emrich said.

Stand for Marriage Maine collected more than $3 million of the $3.8 million in donations in support of Question 1.

Dorian Cole, a spokeswoman for Equality Maine, one of the groups that supports same-sex marriage, said the finance reports reveal the “unsurprising” fact that much of the money channeled against same-sex marriage came from large organizations, while more than 20,000 individual supporters donated to the No on 1 campaign.

“They did get a large portion of their funds from the national organizations, from churches around the country and the Portland Catholic Diocese,” said Cole. “The numbers kind of explain themselves. It’s not surprising.”

The ethics commission’s data shows that the National Organization for Marriage, a Princeton, N.J., group that supports traditional marriage, donated more than $1.9 million to Stand for Marriage Maine between June 3 and Dec. 8 of this year. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland donated $561,871 to the group between June 4 and Nov. 15. A group called Focus on the Family from Colorado Springs, Colo., chipped in almost $258,000.

The No side also enjoyed large donations. The Human Rights Campaign of Washington, D.C., gave more than $334,000 to four groups opposing Question 1. Almost all of the contributions to No on 1/Protect Maine Equality, which raised the lion’s share of donations in support of same-sex marriage, came from individuals, said Cindy Sullivan, who oversees political action committees for the ethics commission. Some of those individuals gave a lot. Donald Sussman of Greenwich, Conn., gave $526,000. Individuals named Paul Singer and Esmond Harnsworth gave $200,000 and $100,000, respectively.

The 53-to-47 percent vote on Nov. 4 reaffirms that the majority of Mainers are against same-sex marriage, said Emrich. Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Hancock County, the prime sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill that was passed by the Legislature, saw it differently.

“The issue is polarizing,” said Damon. “It was that group in the middle who don’t have strong feelings one way or the other which is probably what ended up deciding the outcome. They need to have more conversation.”

Damon said he expects the debate over same-sex marriage to continue in Maine.

“The wall still stands, but it’s filled with cracks,” he said.

Emrich said same-sex marriage supporters aren’t likely to have the “stars aligned” like they did this year with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a governor willing to sign the legislation.

“They spent five years getting all of those things in place,” said Emrich, who recently announced he is running for the House District 25 seat in the Newport area. “If they do try again, we’ll deal with it as it comes.”


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