How Gay Activism Shapes U.S. Politics

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He's considered to be America's biggest gay donor. And his out-of-the-box political strategies are reshaping public policy in the areas of marriage, family and gay rights.

Gay Activism Goes Undercover

You probably haven't heard the name Tim Gill. And that's just the way he wants it.

Carrie Earll, Senior Director of Issues Analysis for Focus on the Family explains, "Tim Gill is stealth. He's under the radar. When he goes after a candidate he doesn't make homosexuality the issue. He picks something else because he knows the issue of homosexuality is still risky among the electorate."

A Colorado native, Gill still calls Denver home. He made his millions in the 80s and 90s as the founder of the publishing software giant Quark.

But in 2000, he moved to full-time philanthropy.

Gill favors giving to main-stream charities like the Denver Aquarium. He ties the money to so-called "non-discrimination" policies and establishes himself as a community pillar.

But it's in the area of politics where his giving is starting to get the most attention.

Earll says, "His strategy is to go after the young, up-and-coming conservative, to knock them out early and to send a message of intimidation and fear to other conservatives."

Gill's giving to candidates and causes began in 2000. According to Atlantic Monthly, it started with $300,000, then $800,000 in '02 -- and a whopping $5 million in '04.

But unlike so many other big-time political donors, Gill focuses on state and local races--believing public policy starts from the ground up.

The 'Gill Factor' in Action

One of Gill's 2004 targets was Ray Martinez of Fort Collins, Colorado.

As the three-time Republican mayor of this Republican leaning area, Martinez thought he had a great shot at winning a state senate seat. Martinez told CBN News "the odds looked very good. The polling we saw was very favorable."

But in the last few weeks of the campaign, Martinez got hit with an avalanche of media attacking his personal character and pro-life stance.

"We didn't know who was funding it," Martinez said. "We heard rumors of their names, but we could never find their names and we couldn't expose those because they were buried in a barrage of paperwork."

Martinez had raised over $300,000 - more than enough he thought to win Fort Collins. But several published reports show Gill and various associates had poured close to $1 million into the race through '527' political organizations.

By taking out Martinez and other Republicans, Gill helped Democrats seize control of Colorado's statehouse for the first time in 30 years.

The result? A slew of gay-friendly laws that redefine the family in Colorado.

The Payoff

Today, pro-family lawmakers in the Rocky Mountain state say the "Gill factor" is impossible to ignore.

State representative and Minority Whip Cory Gardner says "it puts extreme pressure on people who are trying to make a living at work and trying to raise money for a campaign who don't have deep pockets."

In 2005, Gill started the Gill Action Fund. The fund's mission is "securing equal opportunity for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression."

The next year, the fund's success rocked the political world. According to several published reports, it orchestrated donations worth $15 million to Gill's favored candidates and causes.

The payoff this time was wins in 50 of 70 targeted campaigns and power changes in the state chambers of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Iowa.

Gill took out Iowa House Speaker Danny Carroll with one of his favorite stealth tactics: small checks from Gill and friends around the country. Carroll says he never knew what hit him until after the election when he checked campaign contributions for his opponent.

Out of the Closet

Today, Gill's no secret in the gay world. Out magazine just named him the fifth most influential gay in the country.

But Gill, his spokesperson, and big-time gay rights organizations all refused requests from CBN News to talk about Gill.

Perhaps it's because Gill fears the spotlight could hurt his current plans.

Gill did tell Atlantic Monthly that he has an even "larger target list in 2008."

CBN News found that the New York statehouse is one of those targets.

Last fall, according to the New York Attorney General's office, Gill gave $50,000 to the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Jason McGuire, a lobbyist with the New Yorker's Family Research Foundation, is well aware of Gill. He notes, "a few thousand dollars in a state race can make a huge difference."

Why did Gill pick New York? For starters, the Empire state teeters on the brink of legalizing same-sex marriage. The state assembly has already passed a bill and lawmakers agree: If Democrats can pick up one more Senate seat and take control of that chamber - same-sex marriage will pass.

McGuire says of Gill, "as far as his strategy, I think it's brilliant. He rightly recognizes that many of the battles are being fought at the state level and so by trying to tip just a few races at the state level he can make a huge impact."

A Little Discretion Goes a Long Way

Perhaps one of Gill's smartest strategies is staying behind the scenes. In Albany, CBN News had a hard time finding a lawmaker who knew his name, let alone anything about his influence.

Even the hard-charging Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno who stands to lose the most knew little - at least before CBN News alerted him.

When we asked Bruno about Gill he said he was not "intimately aware" of him. But on hearing of his campaign contribution to the Senate Democrats, Bruno asserted, "we're not going to be influenced by pressure from people from out of state and especially just trying to jam and ram legislation through the legislature with dollars."

Across the country in Colorado, state Republican chair Dick Wadhams insists that pro-family issues can and should win the day. "There is," he says, "a myth in politics that the person who spends the most money always wins."

But for many pro-family advocates, Gill's multi-millions make it a David-and-Goliath fight. Matt Barber with Concerned Women for America says "we don't have an evangelical Christian Tim Gill that has stepped forward."

It's ironic that Gill himself uses spiritual language to define his detractors. In Atlantic Monthly he called his opponents "the forces of darkness."

It's a warning, say his observers.

Earll says Gill and associates "are not shy about saying that every dollar they spend is with the goal of 'punishing the wicked.' And the wicked are anyone who has a moral or biblical opposition or concern about homosexuality."

From their Denver office to Washington, D.C., Gill and his political co-horts are mapping the country, looking for the key '08 races that could flip statehouse chambers and ultimately - the way the country views sexuality and the family.

*Original broadcast April 29, 2008.

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CBN News
Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

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