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  • « 'Cured' Haggard will pay it forward | Main | Turning away from the D.C. Dems »

    February 10, 2007

    An independent voice in Washington

    Posted by: Chris

    Tim_gill_jpg Kudos to Atlantic Monthly for luring reclusive gay philanthropist Tim Gill out for a long-form interview that adds a much-needed perspective to how gay Americans might best strategize for equality. Gill, who made his fortune on Quark software, has been devoted full-time to philanthropy through his Denver-based Gill Foundation since selling his stake in the company six years ago.

    But after dissatisfaction with the results from donating large sums to existing gay groups and political parties, Gill hired his own political strategists and embarked on something of an experiment.  First motivated by anti-gay ballot measures in Colorado, Gill invested his money directly where the action was: trying to stop statewide constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. 

    But seeing the long odds there, he and his advisers looked more closely at the situation and saw that, although these measures get broad support at the polls, they are typically generated by only a few local politicians who use the social issue of gay marriage to drum up dollars and build larger political careers.  As they advance, they only wreak further havoc on gay people at a higher level. Think Rick Santorum.

    So beginning in 2004, Gill aimed at cutting off these careers early on, identifying the loudest anti-gay politicians from the most vulnerable local districts, and he poured large sums of money into knocking them off.  And after years of networking with other gay philanthropers, he got them to follow suit.

    The result, according to Atlantic Monthly, was extraordinary:

    In 2004, [Gill] quietly targeting three anti-gay Colorado incumbents; two of them went down. Through the combined efforts of a host of progressive interest groups, including many supported by Gill, Democrats captured both chambers of the legislature for the first time in forty years. Gill’s decision to back Democrats in Colorado was the only choice that would produce the gay-tolerant leadership he’s pursuing. But ten years from now, he told me, he hopes he’ll be able to give evenly to Republicans and Democrats.

    In 2006, Gill went even bigger, targeting some 70 vulnerable anti-gay incumbents and other races that might affect who controls a state legislature. The results were even more extraordinary:

    In the 2006 elections, on a level where a few thousand dollars can decide a close race, Gill’s universe of donors injected more than $3 million, providing in some cases more than 20 percent of a candidate’s or organization’s budget. On Election Day, 50 of the 70 targeted candidates were defeated … and out of the 13 states where Gill and his allies invested, four—Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington—saw control of at least one legislative chamber switch to the Democratic Party.

    Even with the strong anti-incumbent, anti-Republican electorate, those are impressive results.

    Two factors that set Gill and the Gill Action Fund, his political action committee, apart from dinosaurs like the Human Rights Campaign are GAF's constituency of one, and its independence from the Democratic Party.  GAF has been headed since last year by Patrick Guerriero, the smart and talented former director of Log Cabin Republicans.

    Patrickguerriero Gill and Guerriero harbor no illusions that money is well spent today on the anti-gay GOP leadership, but their independence means — and this is most critical — that their money is spent on gay rights priorities, not Democratic Party priorities. There are many times, of course, when these two interests coincide, often in deciding control of state legislatures and in many individual races.

    But one key principle preached by Gill and GAF is that gay money is better spent down in the trenches, like conservative Christians have for decades, than on "the shiny bauble" of national politics, even when sirens like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are calling.

    That sort of strategy doesn't sit well with the "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" that runs HRC, or with leading gay Democrats like Jeff Soref, who complained to Atlantic Monthly that Gill's approach drained needed resources from Democrats:

    "One of the problems with Tim’s strategy is that he’s turning people away from national politics at a time when Democrats have just achieved a big victory — one that we weren’t as big a part of as we might have been, perhaps because of his steering gay money away from the national level. I’ve personally gotten calls, pre- and postelection, from Democratic leaders who feel the gay community has not been as supportive in this election as in previous ones. There’s a tangible downside to disengaging. In a competitive environment, our issues may not get the attention we want them to get."

    Soref has been an important critic of weak-kneed Democratic Party strategy on gay issues, but I couldn't side more strongly with Gill's independence over Soref's apologist thinking.  Let's hope Democratic Party leaders noticed the missing pink dollars.  It's frankly galling to hear that party leaders are paraphrasing Ms. Jackson — "What have you done for us lately?" — when that's exactly what we gays should be saying to them.

    And as Gill Action Fund opens up a Washington office, the contrast with HRC couldn't be more striking.  As HRC adopts a strategy modeled after labor unions beholden to Democratic Party crumbs even as the party fails to deliver on its priorities, Gill and GAF are putting their money where the action is: ballot measures that deal directly with our equality and races where our money can make the most difference.

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    Comments

    1. Alan down in Florida on Feb 10, 2007 12:29:21 PM:

      For the second time in a week I agree with you completely. All politics is local and the strategy of cutting out the cancer of homophobia where it first appears makes more sense that allowing it to metastasize to a wider platform. The higher up it goes the more entrenched it becomes.

      I have suggested elsewhere that it might now be time for the GLBTQI community to start its own third party inasmuch as our issues, as pressing as they are to us, are low in the priorities of both parties. When it comes to equal rights for our peoples DNC = Do Not Care. However, the benign neglect of Democrats is still currently better than the active oppression of Republican.

    1. Andoni on Feb 10, 2007 4:16:29 PM:

      Bravo Tim Gill!!

      I didn't know this. Thank you for highlighting Gill's work. The results are very impressive.

      As for the Dems, if they simply read your blog or the Atlantic Monthly article, they will see that gay money is helping the Dems a lot more than they realize. It's a continuation of the spat between Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel. Is the money best spent at the top or building a party at the state level? Well both, but each half has to acknowledge the contributions of the other.

      As for Soref, he isn't really interested in what's best for gays in general. His top priority is what's best for him personally -- to be on the "ins" with the big shots in DC and keep them happy so they can reward him in the myriad of ways that such a person gets rewarded.

      Again, good work Tim. Next time I'm writing checks, you'll be on the list.

    1. Blue Gal on Feb 11, 2007 9:51:20 AM:

      Thanks for blogging about this, Chris. I really loved that article in the Atlantic, too. Change on this (every?) issue will happen at the local level. I love the way Tim is handling this, not looking for a lot of applause, just working to make a difference.

      Loving your blog, too.

    1. Bloggernista on Feb 12, 2007 5:42:39 AM:

      Stop being such an HRC hater. Yeah, its great and smart what Tim Gill is doing, but all of the gay chess pieces should not now be moved to CO. By staking out different but complementary areas HRC and Gill Action will further the gay cause in ways that we were not able to before.

      Effective strategies are needed at all levels to move us towards equality. Sitting on your ass or behind a keyboard complaining is doing nothing. There is tons of gay money and smart gay political operatives to do the work. We just need to stop the personality based conflicts and do the work.

    1. Kevin on Feb 12, 2007 4:12:44 PM:

      I agree completely, Chris. This isn't a personality conflict - it's a fundamental strategic difference. Tim Gill is doing what has needed to be done for a long, long time, but HRC has been institutionally and structurally incapable of delivering (and has stood in the way of any other organization successfully doing so, since it would rival their brand identity as the "all" of gay activism).

      I say bravo to Tim Gill and his capable team as well.

    1. Joey on Feb 24, 2007 7:21:37 AM:

      Why don't you come out and say you're a Log Cabin Republican? Every single piece I've read from you has some gushing, pro-LCR (especially Patrick G.) bit.

      I applaud Gill for his great contributions, but he is not the only one or way. This war for equality will not be one in a single battle or election. Together we will win it. Together means Gill's organization and, yes, HRC and GLAAD and all every single out gay and lesbian American.

      As for your obsession regarding the pro-Dem leanings of HRC, you need to wake up. In 2004, 75% of voting gays voted Blue. HRC knows it's base - it's gay, liberal and Democratic.

      You don't have to be a Democrat to contribute/support HRC's agenda, but a toleration of Democratic tendencies is a must. Something tells me you're lacking in this area.

      Further, that slice of the gay electorate who voted Bush probably, and I'm only guessing here, doesn't view highly the need for gay equality. They're almost certainly not supporting HRC.

      Stand tall, HRC. Listen to your supporters and don't buckle to ankle biters like Mr Crain. He's just a bitter blogger, a Republican apologist who jetted the country in a move of complete surrender. To quote Republican president Roosevelt, gay equality in America needs men (and women) in the Arena... not in Brazil.

    1. Alan down in Florida on Feb 24, 2007 2:02:41 PM:

      "Republican president Roosevelt"

      Did I miss something in history class?

    1. Joey on Feb 24, 2007 5:51:51 PM:

      I don't know - you do know there have been two President Roosevelts, one Democratic and one Republican?

      Republican president Roosevelt = Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the U.S.A.

      Not to be confused with Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the U.S.A., a 5th cousin of Teddy.

    1. Citizen Crain on Feb 24, 2007 7:35:11 PM:

      I love it when I'm accused of being a closet Republican or Log Cabin enthusiast. I can't remember the last time I voted for a Republican, with the exception of a gay Republican-turned-independent on the D.C. Council. I have plenty of "toleration for Democratic tendencies." But like Tim Gill, I never confuse Democratic Party priorities with the gay rights movement's priorities, and I'm very aware of when the two diverge.

      I love it even more when I'm accused of being a coward for leaving the U.S. to be with my partner due to our country's anti-gay immigration laws — as if I took the easy way out by leaving behind my job, the company I founded, my friends, my home, my family and even my dogs, to be with the man I love. Only back-biting queers eat our own with such vehemence.

    1. Joey on Feb 25, 2007 7:02:25 AM:

      The problem with you is that you attack HRC because it's headed by a Democrat. Your anti-Dem bias is very clear from all your postings - while at Blade, you allowed a GOP shill/prostitute to write an almost-weekly opinion piece. Sure you could've picked a better, "more clean" and responsible gay conservative than him. But you knew it would anger gay Democrats... and you clearly have no problem with that.

      You are a contrarian. You do nothing but contradict, manipulate and criticize the doers.

      HRC and Joe may not always be right, but they are acting. They may not know all the answers, but they try. If they didn't, you wouldn't criticize their every move. Or maybe you would.

      Eating our own? That's rich coming from you. You eat your own because of their political leanings or their party label.

    1. Alan down in Florida on Feb 27, 2007 12:28:11 PM:

      I thought Teddy Roosevelt was a member of the Bull Moose Party.

    1. Joey on Feb 27, 2007 5:03:45 PM:

      He was, for his attempt at a third term in 1912.

      But while VP/President, he was a Republican.

    1. Carlene Smith on May 16, 2007 10:49:44 AM:

      I don't care how you try to decorate the package, it is still immoral and not natural for two people of the same sex to be together.

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