Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gay Activists Target Businesses -

Gay Activists Target Businesses -

August 27, 2008; Page A3

When William Bolthouse, a California philanthropist, donated $100,000 in March to support a proposition to ban gay marriage in California, calls and emails poured in -- not to Mr. Bolthouse, but to the corporate offices of a company that bears his name -- even though he sold it three years earlier.

"It wasn't us, it's not our fault," says Jeffrey Dunn, now the chief executive of Bolthouse Farms, whose juice bottles are sold at upscale markets such as Whole Foods.

Bolthouse Farms is the latest target in what has become an increasingly bitter political fight in California. As gay-rights activists attempt to defeat the upcoming ballot initiative, called Proposition 8, they are going after not just individuals, but also companies to which they are connected, however tenuously.

"Mr. Bolthouse has said, 'I'm not connected to Bolthouse Farms at all.' But we don't accept that," says Fred Karger, who runs Californians Against Hate, a new gay-rights group that is leading the charge to identify and publicize corporate connections to significant donors. He notes that Mr. Bolthouse's son-in-law is chairman of the company and that Bolthouse Farms markets itself as a fourth-generation company.

Next week, Californians Against Hate is planning to push its tactic further by publishing a "Dishonor Roll," a list of individual and corporate donors who give $5,000 or more to groups campaigning on behalf of Proposition 8. The list will include the donor's name, employer and the corporate logo of that employer -- even if the company itself didn't donate to the Proposition 8 fight.

Mr. Karger said the tactic isn't intended to keep individuals or companies from donating, but is meant to educate the public so consumers can make informed choices. He said including corporate logos of businesses whose employees donate is fair game, since that information is publicly available on government Web sites that track donors. "Our larger message is to other business people," Mr. Karger says. "It's a free country, you can give as much money to this campaign, but we are going to publicize that and people can make a decision on whether or not they want to support those businesses."

Some Proposition 8 supporters see the effort as crossing a line. "To tell a business owner that they can't express their beliefs on an issue is a really stupid thing," said Terry Caster, the owner of A-1 Storage, a self-storage company based in San Diego.Californians Against Hate says Mr. Caster and his family gave about $300,000 to support Proposition 8, prompting the group to make him the focus of a call-in campaign. Mr. Caster said he received a few phone calls a day that petered out after several weeks, and his business wasn't affected.

Mr. Dunn said Bolthouse Farms's bottom line wasn't affected by the publicity and that his company has made an effort to correct wrong information on blogs that said Mr. Bolthouse still owned a large portion of the company.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in California in June after the State Supreme Court ruled a ban was unconstitutional. That set the stage for a ballot proposal to outlaw gay marriage. Both sides see California as the crucial battleground state that could determine how far same-sex marriage rights can be extended. Fund raising has poured in from across the country.

From January to the end of June, the largest campaign to ban gay marriage had raised $2.6 million, according to the California secretary of state's Web site.

The largest campaign to protect gay marriage raised $2.5 million during that period. Both sides said they had raised considerably more since then.

Some large corporations have waded into the fray. San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric, the state's largest utility by revenue, donated $250,000 to defeat Proposition 8. A spokeswoman said the company received some complaints from its 20,000 employees and six million customers, and it was able to handle the protests internally.

Other companies haven't had it so easy. San Diego's Manchester Grand Hyatt is now the target of a boycott that was kicked off after its owner, Doug Manchester, donated $125,000 to the campaign to support Proposition 8. With the help of a local union, gay-rights activists managed to convince two professional associations to cut back on some events they planned to host at the hotel. A hotel official said both groups are keeping the rooms they have blocked off for their events but moved some meetings and other events to other venues.

In an email responding to a reporter's question, Mr. Manchester said, "We have received support from those that are in favor of Prop 8 which has made up for some of what is being lost as a result of the boycott. Nonetheless, we are saddened by all the divisive nature of the movement."

A spokeswoman for Hyatt Corp. in Chicago said it doesn't require its hotel owners to follow any particular policy. "We absolutely don't have a position on the proposition itself but we have a really strong, long track record of inclusiveness in terms of the way we welcome our guests and the way we treat our employees. Doug no way speaks for Hyatt," said the spokeswoman.

That distinction may be harder to make as gay-rights groups offer fuller public profiles of private donors. Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for, the largest fund-raiser for the Yes on Prop 8 campaign, says she expects it will become more difficult to entice corporations to contribute to her cause.

"The moment [Mr. Manchester] wrote the check, he found himself to be the target of numerous boycotts and protests," she said. "Our side has a significant challenge in that." Ms. Kerns noted that the greater chunk of her group's funding will likely come from individuals and religious groups, such as the national Catholic organization Knights of Columbus, which recently contributed $1 million to the campaign.

Write to Tamara Audi at

No comments: