Ballot groups report marriage amendment fundraising tallies

Same-sex marriage
A volunteer provides traditional marriage materials outside the Church of Holy Childhood in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2011. Minnesota for Marriage had a booth set up just blocks from the Minnesota State Fair.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Minnesotans got their first look at who's trying to influence their vote this November on a constitutional ballot question defining marriage.

The ballot question would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, which is the current definition under state law. Ten ballot groups filed reports with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board by Tuesday's deadline. While the dollar amounts were close, the reports reveal the different fundraising approaches of the two sides of the debate.

Altogether, pro-amendment groups raised more than $1.3 million.

Minnesota for Marriage raised the largest sum with $830,000, most of it coming from three other ballot groups: $350,000 from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, $250,000 from the National Organization for Marriage, Minnesota Marriage Fund and $226,000 from the Minnesota Family Council Marriage Protection Fund.

In its report, the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund listed $750,000 raised from three donations. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis contributed $650,000 while the dioceses of Duluth and New Ulm each gave $50,000. A press release from the Archdiocese noted the funds came from investment income, not from parish assessments, the Catholic Service Appeal, or donations to parishes or to the Archdiocese.

Minnesota for Marriage listed the names of only seven individual donors, all living in the Twin Cities or its outskirts, who gave amounts ranging from $105 to $500.

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Six groups that support the right of same sex couples to wed raised $1.2 million to oppose the amendment.

Minnesotans United for All Families, the lead group, received funding from three other groups: $150,000 from Freedom to Marry Minnesota PAC, $54,373 in cash and in-kind donations from OutFront Minnesota, and $5,579 from Directors Center Stage. It's Personal to Me reported no activities and Republicans Against the Marriage Amendment reported raising $2,287.

The stark difference of either side is in the level of detail about individual donors. Amendment proponents such as NOM and the Minnesota Family Council testified before the Campaign Finance Board last fall against disclosure requirements for underlying donors, citing fear of reprisal from gay activists.

Minnesotans United for All Families released a 342-page report that included the names all donors, even those whose donations were beneath the threshold for disclosure.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson and her husband Glenn Nelson contributed a combined $50,000, making them the largest individual donors on the list. Other prominent Minnesotans opposing the amendment included Wheelock Whitney, Bruce Dayton, the father of the current Minnesota governor, John and Sage Cowles, and brothers James Pohlad and Robert Pohlad.

Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, criticized the lack of transparency in the ballot race.

"In analyzing the reports, we found that on the vote 'yes' campaign, only 0.2 percent of their donors are being disclosed on it, and on the vote 'no' side they're disclosing 78 percent of their donors and that is a huge problem because Minnesotans don't know who's really behind at least the vote 'yes' campaign," Dean said. He blamed creative legal maneuvers and decisions by the Campaign Finance Board allowing groups to violate, in his opinion, the spirit of Minnesota's disclosure laws.

Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage rejected Dean's criticism.

"Our report reports all the people and all the organizations that gave money to Minnesota for Marriage and that's in complete compliance with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board," Darrell said. "We followed it to a tee."

Expenditures show the major groups hiring staff, setting up offices, building websites, conducting polls and buying pizza for volunteers.

The largest ticket item for Minnesota for Marriage is a Sacramento PR firm Schubert Flint, which was behind California's successful Proposition 8 which overturned gay marriage in that state.

On the anti-amendment side, the most costly expenditure was polling done by the Human Rights Campaign.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of OutFront Minnesota. The current version is correct.