Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Group raised money to fight marriage ban in Florida

A group battling a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Florida said Tuesday it has raised more than $1 million over the past 60 days for what could be a vigorous ballot fight next year.

"This is about all Floridians, not just some Floridians," said Jon Kislak, a North Miami financier who is serving as chairman of Florida Red and Blue, Inc., formed to fight the measure.

The organization, which leaders say is attracting both Democratic and Republican supporters, will show contributions from 375 donors by day's end -- a quarterly deadline for state campaign reports. One-third of the contributors are self-identified Republicans, leaders said, including Palm Beach philanthropist Don Burns, who put up $250,000 in a challenge grant matched by other donors.

The same-sex marriage ban looks like a sure bet to share space on the November 2008 presidential ballot., which is pushing the measure, expects to finish within 30 days the task of collecting the 611,009 signatures needed to get on the ballot, said chairman John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer.

"This will inevitably be the most robust, well-funded marriage amendment in the history of these ballot initiatives across the country," Stemberger said when told of the Red and Blue fund-raising total.

Florida4Marriage has raised $438,613, state campaign finance records show. But most of the money has been spent on the petition drive.

The Florida Republican Party gave Florida4Marriage $300,000 of its cash in two installments in late 2005 and early last year. But Gov. Charlie Crist repeated his stance Tuesday that no more state party money should go toward the effort, although the governor's hand-picked GOP chairman, Jim Greer, earlier indicated the party might continue supporting the effort.

"I think that the funds at the party could be better utilized," Crist said. "Like for winning elections."

Crist signed one of the group's petitions during last fall's Republican primary, but he has distanced himself from the measure since. Still, Crist said he had no plans to campaign against the measure, which could be seen as helping draw conservative Republican voters to the polls next fall in Florida, the largest of the presidential swing states.

Stemberger said he expects to be outspent in the ballot campaign, as a similar effort was two years ago in Colorado. Seven states that year approved same-sex marriage bans, joining 20 others that passed prohibitions in earlier years.

Arizona's proposed ban was defeated, though, last fall when it was broadened to bar government entities from recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships in providing benefits to employees, which Florida Red and Blue also raised as a threat.

But Stemberger said his measure does not touch such matters, and says he is confident the ban can gain support from the at least 60 percent of Florida voters needed to win approval.

"The only way opponents can win is if they try to scare voters into voting against it," Stemberger said.

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