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Money flows to GOP backers of same-sex marriage in New York

By Danny Hakim

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 1:34 a.m. HST, Jan 18, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. » Gay-rights advocates from Wall Street to Hollywood poured donations into the coffers of four little-known Republican state senators after the lawmakers provided the decisive votes for same-sex marriage in New York last June, according to new campaign finance filings released Tuesday.

The support for the four senators, whose vote broke ranks with their party, is seen by gay rights leaders as symbolically important for their movement nationally, because in many states same-sex marriage could become law only with support from Republicans, as well as conservative Democrats. Maryland, New Jersey and Washington state are expected to consider same-sex marriage legislation this year.

The four New York Republicans had been threatened with political retribution by the state's Conservative Party and now face possible challenges from both the left and the right, but same-sex marriage supporters had promised to help them politically if they supported the issue.

"It was essential to send a clear signal around the country that we will support those who support equality, irrespective of party," said Brian Ellner, a senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group. "We were able to win marriage in New York with a bipartisan coalition of fair-minded elected officials. We need to replicate that if we are to keep winning."

All four Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage sharply increased their fundraising in the six months after the marriage bill passed, in many cases raising money from people they had never met. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who forcefully pushed the legislation, raised $6 million in six months helped by fundraisers that highlighted his support for same-sex marriage.

Republican State Sen. Roy J. McDonald, a Vietnam veteran from Saratoga who became a momentary folk hero in the gay community when he blurted out that people who weren't happy with his support for same-sex marriage "can take the job and shove it," raised $448,732 in the six months following the vote, about 27 times more than he had raised during the same period in 2009.

Republican Sen. Stephen M. Saland, a lawyer from Poughkeepsie whose decision to support same-sex marriage became clear only when he rose to speak during the vote, raised $425,000. For rank-and-file lawmakers in Albany, those are large sums -- both men raised more in the latter half of 2011 than did the Senate Majority Leader, Dean J. Skelos, a Long Island Republican.

Sen. Mark Grisanti, a first-term Republican from Buffalo, raised $325,000 in the six months after the vote.

Michael McKeon, a 48-year-old California insurance executive who describes his political stance as "just to the left of being far left," said he had never supported a Republican in his life before hearing Grisanti's speech on the Senate floor during the same-sex marriage debate.

"His speech was absolutely compelling, moving," McKeon said by telephone from Van Nuys, Calif., where he has lived for 30 years after growing up in Lewiston, N.Y. After the gay marriage bill passed, McKeon returned to Lewiston to marry his partner; while in the state, he met Grisanti, shook his hand and handed one of his aides a check for $200.

"If Mr. Grisanti were running for president, I'd vote for him, even though he's Republican" said McKeon, a volunteer activist for gay rights. "He stood up for us."

Sen. James S. Alesi, the first Republican to say he would support same-sex marriage, had not filed his fundraising report by Tuesday evening, but said in an interview that he would report having raised $350,000 to $400,000 during the same period. Alesi said more than half of his new donations came from same-sex marriage supporters.

"I didn't vote for the money, but it's gratifying to know that support is there, especially coming into an election year," he said. "It's more gratifying to me when someone comes up to me and says, 'I appreciate your vote'; you can't put a price on that."

The senators will need the help. Same-sex marriage opponents have promised to target them when all state lawmakers face re-election in November.

"All the money in the world isn't going to buy them out of the fact that they're about to lose an election," said Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposed the New York law and has said it will spend heavily to oust the four senators.

"People are outraged by what they've done and they are going to be held accountable," he said.

Wealthy gay-rights advocates also gave significant contributions to the Senate Republican leadership, which opposed same-sex marriage, to acknowledge that the conference had allowed the vote to take place. Three prominent Wall Street executives -- Paul Singer, Jonathan Pollock and Daniel Loeb -- donated $350,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

The donations to the individual senators came from a variety of prominent figures in the political, philanthropic, financial and entertainment worlds -- from the Hollywood director J.J. Abrams to the producer Stephen Bing, from the billionaire Robert Ziff to the former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, a Republican who is leading a challenge to a same-sex marriage ban in California.

Many of the same large donors also helped Cuomo, who is not on the ballot again until 2014, amass a formidable $14 million campaign treasury, in part from celebrities including Calvin Klein, Don Henley and Rob Reiner, as well as studio executives and business leaders.

Some of the contributions to lawmakers came from friends, associates and supporters of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, a political independent who strongly supported same-sex marriage and who last fall co-hosted a fundraiser for the four Republicans. Bloomberg had given $10,000 to each of the four senators in July. This month, shifting his attention to the national stage, he donated $50,000 to Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, an organization set up to fight a proposed repeal of same-sex marriage in that state.

Other contributions came in small amounts from donors across the nation -- not a usual source of money for upstate legislative candidates. One Texas woman sent Saland $5, while a donor in Mississippi sent in $12.

For many of the donors, the motivation was personal.

"My son is gay and happily planning to marry soon," said Daryl Roth, a Broadway producer who recently backed a revival of "The Normal Heart," a drama about the early years of AIDS. Roth gave the legal maximum, $16,800, to Sens. Grisanti, McDonald and Saland, according to state records, as did her husband, the real estate developer Steven Roth.

Randy Mastro, who as a deputy mayor during the administration of Rudolph W. Giuliani helped push the city to carry out domestic partner policies, also gave to some of the lawmakers. Mastro called gay marriage "the great civil rights issue of our time," and his law firm, where Olson is a partner, is active in several gay-rights cases.

"Those Republican senators deserve a lot of credit for what they did," Mastro said, adding, "They stood up to tremendous pressure in their own political party, and I wanted in my own small way to thank them."

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