OxBlog

Sunday, February 11, 2007

# Posted 9:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GAY BILLIONAIRE LAUNCHES CONSPIRACY TO BUY POLITICAL INFLUENCE: Last fall, Danny Carroll was still the speaker pro tem of the Iowa House and a rising star in GOP politics. But Carroll's efforts to put a gay marriage ban on the state ballot caught the attention of Tim Gill, a gay philanthropist determined to cut short the political careers of rising pols who oppose full equality for homosexuals.

Joshua Green's profile of Gill in The Atlantic begins with a brilliant vignette in which Green himself has to educate Rep. Carroll about why he narrowly lost his race for re-election:
Over the summer, Carroll’s opponent started receiving checks from across the country—significant sums for a statehouse race, though none so large as to arouse suspicion (the gifts topped out at $1,000). Because they came from individuals and not from organizations, nothing identified the money as being “gay,” or even coordinated.

Only a very astute political operative would have spotted the unusual number of out-of-state donors and pondered their interest in an obscure midwestern race. And only someone truly versed in the world of gay causes would have noticed a $1,000 contribution from Denver, Colorado, and been aware that its source, Tim Gill, is the country’s biggest gay donor, and the nexus of an aggressive new force in national politics.


Carroll certainly didn’t catch on until I called him after the election, in which Democrats took control of both legislative chambers, as well as Carroll’s seat and four of the five others targeted by Gill and his allies. Carroll was just sitting down to dinner but agreed to talk about his loss, which he attributed to the activism of Grinnell College students.

A suggestion that he’d been targeted by a nationwide network of wealthy gay activists was met with polite midwestern skepticism. But Carroll was sufficiently intrigued to propose that we each log on to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s Web site and examine his opponent’s disclosure report together, over the telephone.

Scrolling through the thirty-two-page roster of campaign contributors revealed plenty of $25 and $50 donations from nearby towns like Oskaloosa and New Shar­on. But a $1,000 donation from California stood out on page 2, and, several pages later, so did another $1,000 from New York City.

“I’ll be darned,” said Carroll. “That doesn’t make any sense.” As we kept scrolling, Carroll began reading aloud with mounting disbelief as the evidence passed before his eyes. “Denver … Dallas … Los Angeles … Malibu … there’s New York again … San Francisco! I can’t—I just cannot believe this,” he said, finally. “Who is this guy again?”
Now don't get the wrong idea. Green's profile of Mr. Gill is unflinchingly positive. The purpose of this anecdote is to demonstrate his talent as a political operative.

The profile of Gill is well-worth reading in its entirely, but still raises some uncomfortable questions about campaign finance, to which the author himself seems somewhat oblivious as a result of his admiration for Gill. However, before getting into such questions, it is worth stating once again for the record that I believe in full equality before the law for gay Americans. I gave this post a sensationalistic headline because there is another side to this story.

Is it a good thing that one fabulously wealthy individual can recruit other fabulously wealthy individuals for an organized effort to influence the results of dozens of statewide elections across the 50 states?

Usually, this is exactly the sort of thing that progressive magazines such as The Atlantic prefer to denounce rather than celebrate. Just imagine if Tim Gill were targeting politicians who wanted to raise taxes on super-wealthy individuals such as himself.

On the other hand, I accept that campaign donations are a form of free speech which should only be limited when there is a compelling reason to do so. In some respects, it is actually a very good thing that a small number of wealthy individuals can band together to support a cause that may otherwise be ignored by the two major parties, by the media, and by well-established special interests. In fact, individuals such as Gill may actually be able to check the power of certain entrenched forces with no more of a democratic mandate than Gill's own.

Of course, there is also such a thing as money having to much influence on politics. For the moment, I don't see any way to avoid an ongoing search for the golden mean that perfectly balances the individual rights of the donor with the collective right to a system that isn't corrupt.

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Comments:
Good point. What is the use of taking a person who wants to donate 20,000 to a candidate and saying "you can only donate 1,000" if that person is able to (and with the internet, of course they are able to) find 19 other people interested in 19 other races and agreeing to spread around 1,000 dollar checks so that each person can steer 20,000 to their favorite candidate just like they wanted to?
 
My issue with this sort of thing is more that Gill is influencing an election in which he can't elect. It seems to me that if you want to influence the outcome of an election you should move there to vote in it.

I really think that that would be the best campaign finance reform - though probably so far from happening. Only people who can vote for a candidate should be able to give to them (and the money should only be able to be used in the race it was donated for). I mean, really, why should someone in California have any say in who is elected in an Iowa state house race?
 
I agree with Daniel. It's a little reminiscent of the allegations of candidates accepting contributions from China a few cycles back- I don't recall that being defended on freedom of speech grounds.

While I share David's position on gay rights, I can't think of a better way to get Carroll back in office than a series of ads introducing Gill to Iowa voters: "Hi! I'm the rich guy from out of state who secretly coordinated donations from my friends to swing your election. Thanks for voting my way, you rubes!"h
 
How is Gill any different from a Richard Mellon Scaife?
 
Democrats (though supposedly good for gay rights) have not passed any meaningful legislation for equal rights. Republicans most certainly haven't either. I guess we should ask Tim to sit a home, spend his money on oversized houses and cars, not give it away to local charities and cadidates that aren't bigots and hope for the best that some politician will have an epiphany and save the day! Dream on kids. All politics is influenced by money and all campaigns receive money from out of state. What do you think Focus on the Family and other Christian organizations have being doing for decades.

Plus you should also note that in a past interview, Gill was quoted as saying that the money he has saved from the Republican tax breaks have allowed him this extra 10-15 million a year to play in politics.
 
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