Marriage amendment foes winning money race

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This May 19, 2011 file photo, a state trooper stands by as demonstrators on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue gather outside the Minnesota House in St. Paul, Minn. President Obama's Friday, June 1, 2012 visit to Minnesota was his first to a state with a same-sex marriage ban on its ballot this fall since he declared his support for letting gay couples legally marry.
AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage have widened their financial lead but supporters say they are confident the amendment will prevail anyway.

The amendment would add to the Minnesota Constitution a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, which is currently state law.

The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board published financial reports from ballot activity groups that cover a four-week period of early summer.

In the first six months of the year, Minnesotans United for All Families, the largest group organizing against the amendment, had a five-to-one fundraising advantage over amendment supporters. That pattern of strong financial support continued in early summer when the campaign added another 4,867 supporters.

Those donors added $758, 965 to the campaign's coffers, said the organization's Press Secretary Kate Brickman.

"The money that we've raised in the last month brings our total fundraising for this year to about $3.8 million, and our campaign total since the start to just under $5.4 million," Brickman said.

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Seventy-three percent of the latest donations came from within Minnesota.

Minnesota for Marriage, the largest group working to pass the amendment, collected $31,558, or about 4 percent of what opponents raised.

But Minnesota for Marriage Campaign Chairman John Helmberger said he is not worried. Dollars don't equal votes.

"Various studies elsewhere have shown that for all the millions spent in marriage amendment campaigns, there aren't a lot of minds that are changed," Helmberger said. "It's mainly one of voter turnout."

Gay men's chorus
The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus performed during the OutFront Minnesota Lobby Day of Action at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, March 29, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Minnesota for Marriage's polling shows the amendment winning, Helmberger said. They just need to get their voters to the polls and the campaign's 68,000 volunteers will help them do that, he said. The campaign has just a handful of paid staff.

By contrast, Minnesotans United for all Families has about 75 paid staffers who are organizing around the state, and eight offices statewide. Brickman said that reflects the campaign's goal of having a million conversations before November:

"We know that it takes a lot of money to take this conversation about marriage to every corner of the state," Brickman said said. "Since the beginning, we've had a really vigorous grassroots campaign — knocking on doors, calling people on the phone, having lots of events — so the money helps us continue and sustain that."

The greatest expenditures listed in Minnesota for Marriage's report are consultants, whom Helmberger said have experience winning similar battles in 31 other states.

"We use some consultants to help us gather information, intel, so that we know what the voters are thinking and how they're responding and so on," Helmberger said. "Some of those consulting expenses are for that kind of support, people who have a great deal of experiences in passing a marriage protection amendment because there are some unique aspects because of the controversial nature of the issue."

With less than four months until the November election, and with the promise of a deluge of campaign ads to come, how many Minnesotans remain persuadable?

Larry Jacobs at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs says "not many."

"On both sides of the constitutional amendment there are fervent believers," Jacobs said. "No matter how much advertising you run you're not going to change their views, but there could well be 20 percent or so of folks who are going to turn out and vote who haven't yet made up minds, who haven't focused on the issue or they don't feel intensely about it. Those are the folks that are being battled over today and for the coming few months."

Money flowing into the race might not change minds, Jacobs said, but it can help get out the vote in a tight race that may come down to turnout.