Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ME's Gay Marriage Prop:
Follow the Money

James Oaksun is a gay Mainer libertarian with an MBA, and earlier this month he published a piece on what he thought went wrong with the gay marriage proposition that lost in November. He laid out, from a local gay's perspective, what he saw on the ground, and it wasn't a pretty picture.

James has now written a follow up article, examining how the money was spent during the campaign. Click here for source data behind this analysis.

He's allowing me to share his thoughts, which are very provocative, and should give us all pause about how we keep racking up the ballot prop losses for gay marriage, and in this sad case, with much more moolah than our opponents.

Generally, I agree with a tremendous amount of his criticism, and I appreciate very much how he looked at the filings of both sides to come up with comparable expenditures and allocations. However, I disagree with him about creating an "Equality Inc" corps that travels around the country fighting these props.

We already have a cumbersome loose alliance of the same orgs - NGLTF, Freedom to Marry, Haas Jr Fund, HRC, Gill Foundation - sending some of the same staffers, such as Marty Rouse, Dan Hawes, Sarah Reece, Thalia Zepatos, to carry the same tasks. I'm not sure institutionalizing this network is the answer to turning the tide, but it's an idea we could debate with Gay Inc, if they ever held public community meetings.

Here's James' piece:

Maine Question 1: Where Did the Money Go?

The 2009 ballot question on gay marriage in Maine was the most expensive initiative campaign in Maine history, and the third most expensive statewide political campaign in the state’s history. More than $7 million was spent on both sides. Only the U.S. Senate races of 2002 and 2008 were more costly.

This report will examine where the money got spent, on both the “Yes” (anti-equality) and “No” (pro-equality) sides. There were some significant differences in how the funds were allocated among different sources. Brief synopses will be provided on the major vendors on both sides. Finally, some suggestions for future equality campaigns will be offered.

Step One: Get the Issue On the Ballot

Before there could even be a campaign, the “People’s Veto” needed to get the requisite number of signatures to qualify it for the state ballot. In Maine, that requires collecting roughly 55,000 signatures. Stand for Marriage Maine (the Yes on 1 campaign) spent more than $300,000 to gather the signatures. A Michigan-based firm, National Petition Management, was contracted to perform this task. They succeeded. Still, this meant that Yes on 1 needed to raise $300,000 before there could even be a campaign. In my analysis I consider this to be pre-campaign expenditures and do not include it in my ratio calculations.

Step Two: Make a Budget

When planning a major project, you need a budget. Decisions get made, dollars allocated, vendors selected. Here we know exactly who got what. We also know that one side won, and one side lost. Were there differences in how the allocations were made? It turns out there were some very significant differences that might suggest a different approach for equality forces in future campaigns.

No on 1 (the pro equality side) spent nearly $5 million on the campaign. Yes on 1 (the anti-gay marriage side) had substantially fewer resources – about $2.5 million. The two sides allocated their funds as follows:

Yes No
TV/Radio 1,637 2,551
Signs/Literature/Mailing 307 810
People -- Employees and Consultants 270 343
Internet 113 343
Polling 176 160
Phones 1 267
All Other 64 130

(all amounts $000)

In Percent of Total:

Yes No

TV/Radio 64% 55%
Signs/Literature/Mailing 12% 18%
People -- Employees and Consultants 11% 7%
Internet 4% 7%
Polling 7% 3%
Phones 0% 6%
All Other 2% 3%

A series of observations are apparent:

1. Yes on 1 overweighted traditional media, and as a result was relatively competitive with the equality forces on the airwaves.

2. Yes on 1 spent absolutely more dollars in opinion polling than No on 1, and more than twice as much on a relative basis.

3. No on 1 spent a huge amount on direct mail.

4. No on 1 also spent a large amount on phone banking. Yes on 1 shows
practically no expenses for this.

5. No on 1 spent nearly $350,000 on Internet activity – web site design and management, and advertising. More on this later.

6. Though much was made of hiring Frank Schubert to manage the Yes on 1 effort, No on 1 still spent $63,000 more on staff and consultants than did the anti-equality forces (including Schubert’s fee). (Incidentally, Schubert’s fee was $110,000. In addition, he billed the campaign roughly $26,000 in travel and additional expenses. The recent New York Times article citing Schubert’s costs at well over $300,000 was incorrect.)

Now to consider who exactly got the money. First, the pro-equality No on 1 expenses:

1. McMahon Squier -- $2.6 Million

Long active in Democratic politics, this Alexandria, Virginia-based organization has a decent track record. The vast majority of this amount was for purchased TV and radio time. Typically commissions on ad buys range from 10 to 15 percent. I assume they also did the creative work on the ads – the scripts and such. Presumably, therefore, some of their commission is analogous to Frank Schubert’s base payment from Yes on 1, as Schubert claims to do substantially all the creative for the anti-equality campaigns. (Incidentally, McMahon Squier is the chief media consultant for Maine’s Democratic Governor, John Baldacci.)

2. Mission Control -- $779,000

This is a Connecticut-based direct mail operation. According to their website, they produce “the only junk mail you’ll ever read twice.” They work exclusively with Democratic candidates and progressive causes.

3. Mundy Katowitz -- $319,000

This firm, based in Washington, DC, is something of a mystery. Their website is “under construction.” Five principal members are named. The firm apparently does new media/Internet work for Democrats.

4. Winding Creek -- $200,000

This is a telemarketing firm, based in Washington, DC, that does phone work for Democrats.

5. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner -- $160,000

This is a longtime Washington, DC-based polling firm. While they do corporate work as well, their principal focus is work with Democrats and progressive causes. Stan Greenberg came onto the national scene in the 1992 campaign for his work with Bill Clinton.

The anti-equality/Yes on 1 vendors have their own degree of mystery.

1. Mar/Com Associates -- $1.6 million

This was the Yes on 1 media shop. Analogous to McMahon Squier, they produce advertisements and book the air time, holding back a 10-15 percent commission. Mar/Com appears to be a shell company under the aegis of a man named Bill Criswell, of Criswell Associates in San Francisco. Very little information is available about this firm; their website is “under construction.”

2. National Petition Management -- $308,000

This Michigan based firm has a long track record in successfully gathering signatures for conservative causes.

3. Aaron, Thomas and Associates -- $189,000

This is a direct mail operation, based in California, and hired by Frank Schubert. Very little information is available about them.

4. Public Policy Strategies -- $147,000

This was Yes on 1’s pollster. According to Frank Schubert, this is actually an East Coast polling firm that is operating under an alias (and with a Nevada mail drop). Schubert claims vendors do this because LGBT activists harass and target firms that work on anti-equality campaigns. As it is currently unclear who this polling firm is, we cannot say anything further about them.

In addition to Public Policy Strategies, Yes on 1 utilized Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, California, to do some polling.

5. Schubert Flint -- $136,000

This is the Sacramento, California-based firm that provided general campaign management and strategy for Yes on 1, as it had done (successfully) for California Proposition 8 in 2008.

A Strategy Going Forward

In my previous report on the California, Maine and Washington campaigns, I suggested some strategic changes. Here I go further. If they are to start prevailing, the marriage equality forces also need a strategic redesign of their campaign organizational and operational structure. They should take a page from the winners. Success is success. They may disagree with their opponents’ motives and actions, but their opponents are winning at the ballot box and there may be something to learn from them.

Here is how the anti-equality forces set up their campaigns:

a. National Organization for Marriage, the Catholic Church and various conservative/Christian denominations (such as the Mormons) are the funders. They raise the money through a variety of mechanisms.

b. A professional campaign manager, with a record of success, is hired and is then rehired in subsequent campaigns. The wheel is not reinvented with each spin of the electoral process.

c. Scientific polling is overweighted in the budget. Push polling may or may not be used.

d. A small number of senior local operatives are hired as consultants.

In contrast, here is how the equality efforts are run:

a. A new campaign manager, with unclear experience and record especially against nationally renowned opposition, is hired for each campaign.

b. Not only does this inexperienced management team have to run a campaign, they also have to run a fundraising operation, with phone banking and the like.

c. Scientific polling is underweighted.

d. Overweighting is done to vendors with longstanding ties to the Democratic Party, utilizing mechanisms of questionable or obsolete effectiveness.

What I am suggesting here is a totally functional organizational model. Call it “Equality Inc” or something. It is a matrixed organization; there is no overall head per se. There are well defined functions that do their appointed tasks and do them with rigorous effectiveness.

The $5 million spent by No on 1 amounts to about $20 per vote. On a per capita basis, this was three times as much as was spent by the California No on 8 campaign (which also lost). Throwing more money at this issue, without serious reconsideration of strategy and organization, will be money wasted.


JMP said...

Interesting analysis. I'm not sure I get what a "totally functional organizational model" or "matrixed organization" is. Can you say more or provide examples?

Bob Schwartz said...

We lost in Maine as we have across the nation because we don't "take off the gloves" the way our opponents do. They reach down to where people fear that their kids will become gay if we get our equal rights. Crazy, but effective.

Jesse Connolly, the Maine No on 1 leader, specifically rejected the one stragegy that could have put us over the top: do a media campaign seeking to isolate the antigay religious leadership as a gang of bigots with whom no right-thinking person would want to associate. Organize rallies outside the cathederals and other hate centers where these leaders seek legitimacy, and take it away from them! Why are we afraid to brand the Catholic bigot/bishops as the enemies of women who covered-up for pedophile priests then paid out millions to restore the lives of young victims of sexual predators?

After the election, there were rallies at the Portland cathederal and in St Louis where the archbigot sent $10,000 to Maine. All well and good, but too late to change the outcome in the election.

James Oaksun said...

Sure. I'm not saying we should have a formal organization. We've got enough of those already! It's sort of a self managed team approach.

For example, we could have one group responsible for the fundraising, and only fundraising. Hold that separate from/outside of the campaign management. They send the money to the campaign manager.

We get some good campaign management. (From where, I do not know. Maybe I should do it! LOL sort of) It just seems we lose one of these races, then we toss out that campaign's managers and try again. And again. Schubert has a niche for himself now. Whenever there is a marriage race, he is getting the first call from the anti-equality forces. Not because there is a formal "Anti-Equality Inc" but b/c everybody now knows he's the guy, he knows what to do and how to win.

(Incidentally... my report includes the final Yes on 1 expenses, but only includes No on 1 expenses through 11/3. Their final report is now available. I've looked through it briefly and it seems to be mostly salaries and misc expenses after 11/3.)

James Oaksun said...

@Bob Schwartz

I think Michael links to my initial report on this. (You can also find it at You are absolutely right -- why we refuse to take off the gloves on these people is beyond me.

No on 1 knew in advance the anti-equality forces would hit hard on schools/kids/recruitment and such nonsense.. and they did NOTHING to pre-empt it. Sinful and ridiculous -- on No on 1's part!

I am not a videographer but I suggested any number of attack lines via Youtube, and I know the campaign was aware of them, which see

AndrewW said...

We lost in Maine because we played the "victims" again and whimpered about how "unfair" everything is.

We need to be more positive and limit the conversation to "equality." The people in Maine support equality, not pity parades.

Unknown said...

What kills me about the Maine and California losses is that in this year when so many have been mindlessly eulogizing Harvey Milk (not unlike the way Martin Luther King has been mindlessly eulogized for years), our community's "best political analysts" feign utter ignorance about how Milk, et al defeated the Briggs Amendment in far more difficult circumstances than contemporary Maine or CA.

There was a true MOVEMENT in the streets -- not an overpriced media campaign with "professional" media consultants getting rich off of our donations. Rallies, marches, community meetings up and down the state which tapped into the true grassroots (not astroturf) of our community & allies. We had a bit of that, POST-Prop 8 in California, and everyone was saying, "Why didn't we do this BEFORE November?" But when Maine rolled around, once again, the few pro-LGBT rallies and marches that were held were only AFTER the defeat. Pathetic!

Have we learned nothing at all about Civil Rights 101? The rallies and marches of the 1950s and 60s were critical to gradually changing public opinion. Fast-forward to the present, and the rallies and marches of the anti-war movement were critical to winning the majority of Americans to opposing the Iraq war.

So WHY?, pray tell, do so many instead think that as a civil rights movement of the 21st Century, that our path to legal equality is through stupid, overpriced media campaigns, and kissing up to Democratic politicians, when every major civil rights gain before this has been won in the streets?

It truly astounds me that so many sheepishly follow the ahistoricism of those who insist that we focus on cultivating close ties with Democratic movers and shakers, rather than taking on the politicians, regardless of party affiliation. News flash: Dr. King NEVER endorsed a candidate or party in his life. He instead successfully played the two parties off against each other, making them compete for the Civil Rights movement's support. We would do well to carefully study the true history of those who struggled before us, and learn the lessons of how they won their successes.