The New York Times
Donors to G.O.P. Are
Backing Gay Marriage Push
CONFESSORE and MICHAEL BARBARO, From the Web, May 14, 2011
As gay rights advocates intensify
their campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, the bulk of their
money is coming from an unexpected source: a group of conservative
financiers and wealthy donors to the Republican Party, most of whom are known
for bankrolling right-leaning candidates and causes.
Their behind-the-scenes financial support — about $1 million in donations,
delivered in recent weeks to a new coalition of gay rights organizations — could
alter the political calculus of Albany lawmakers, especially the Republican
state senators in whose hands the fate of gay marriage rests.
The donors represent some of New York’s wealthiest and most politically active
figures and include Paul E. Singer, a hedge fund manager and top-tier Republican
donor, as well as two other financiers, Steven A. Cohen and Clifford S. Asness.
At the same time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman and
philanthropist who has been a major contributor to Senate Republicans in New
York, plans a significant push for same-sex marriage: giving at least
$100,000 of his own money, hosting a fund-raiser at an Upper East Side town
house, traveling to Albany to lobby lawmakers and giving a speech on the issue.
The new donations represent roughly two-thirds of the same-sex marriage
coalition’s fund-raising, making New York the rare state where a lobbying
campaign in favor of legalizing gay unions is not being financed primarily by
liberal donors and Democrats. The support is likely to jolt the
traditional financial and political backers of gay rights causes, who now find
themselves in the unfamiliar position of being outraised and outspent in New
The donations are financing an intensive campaign of television advertisements
and grass-roots activism coordinated by New Yorkers United for Marriage, a group
of same-sex marriage advocates. The campaign is aimed chiefly at
persuading several members of the Senate Republican majority to join most Senate
Democrats in backing same-sex marriage, which was defeated in the Senate in
2009. The State Assembly, controlled by Democrats, has repeatedly passed
same-sex marriage bills.
The newly recruited donors argue that permitting same-sex marriage is consistent
with conservative principles of personal liberty and small government.
“I’m a pretty straight-down-the-line small-government guy,” said Mr. Asness, who
described himself as a libertarian who favored less government intrusion in both
markets and personal affairs. Mr. Asness, a frequent Republican donor, has
praised Tea Party activists on his blog and last year attended a conference of
right-leaning donors held by Charles and David Koch, among the leading
conservative philanthropists in the nation.
“This is an issue of basic freedom,” Mr. Asness said.
Some of those involved have made what might be termed the pro-business argument
for same-sex marriage, arguing that the legalization of same-sex marriage would
help keep New York economically competitive.
One of the donors, Daniel S. Loeb, who has donated hundreds of thousands of
dollars to Republican candidates for federal office in the last two years, said
he hoped to make clear to Republicans that same-sex marriage had a broad
coalition of support.
“I think it is important in particular for Republicans to know this is a
bipartisan issue,” Mr. Loeb said. “If they’re Republican, they will not be
abandoned by the party for supporting this. On the contrary, I think they
will find that there is a whole new world of people who will support them on an
ongoing basis if they support this cause.”
Mr. Cohen, who runs SAC Capital Advisers and has become increasingly active in
Republican fund-raising, described his views simply: “We believe in social
justice for all Americans.”
The involvement of Mr. Singer is the most striking, given his devotion to
conservative candidates and philanthropy: He is chairman of the Manhattan
Institute, a right-leaning research group, and one of the most generous
Republican donors in the country. But he also has a personal stake in the
issue: he has a gay son who married his partner in Massachusetts, where
same-sex marriage is legal.
Mr. Singer is coordinating much of the Republican fund-raising for same-sex
marriage in New York, according to people familiar with the matter, donating
$425,000 of his own money and personally soliciting an additional $500,000 in
donations. At the same time, he has hosted private meetings to make the
case for legalizing gay weddings in New York to other conservatives.
Bill Smith, deputy executive director of the Gill Action Fund, a political
organization that supports gay rights, called the contributions from Republican
donors “a sea change.”
Some of the donors were recruited by Ken Mehlman, a contributor to the coalition
and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who has since
announced that he is gay. Some of the new contributors have been active in
national politics and presidential fund-raising, but are venturing into state
politics for the first time. Their involvement offers Republicans in New
York the prospect of help in next year’s legislative elections and a potential
source of longer-term support for a party that has struggled to field
well-financed candidates for statewide office in recent years.
Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, is the most politically centrist
of the donors. (He is not coordinating his efforts with the other
The mayor has long supported same-sex marriage and spoke passionately about the
subject in 2009, when the Legislature last tackled the topic. But his donations
to state Republicans have occasionally stirred skepticism among gay rights
advocates. And until now, the mayor has given little of his personal
fortune to the cause — he made a $5,000 donation to the Human Rights Campaign, a
national gay rights group, in 2010.
This year, his involvement has deepened considerably. Aides to Mr.
Bloomberg said he viewed the marriage issue in a larger context: Freedom,
he argues, is New York’s “competitive advantage” and its brand, and he has
become committed to vigorously defending it, as he did amid criticism of a
proposed Islamic center near ground zero.
“At the core this very rational mayor is somebody who believes that government
has no business in getting involved in, taking sides in or making value
judgments about who you love,” said John Feinblatt, the mayor’s chief policy
On Tuesday, Mr. Bloomberg is scheduled to travel to Albany to lobby Republican
lawmakers, and on May 25, he plans to hold a high-dollar fund-raiser, featuring
the singer Rufus Wainwright, to raise money for the same-sex marriage cause at
the Upper East Side headquarters of his foundation. The next day, Mr.
Bloomberg plans to deliver a speech on the subject at the Cooper Union.
“This is the moment,” Mr. Feinblatt said of the mayor’s involvement. “If
you want your beliefs to count and your voice to count, this is the time.”