They Can't Get Married, But They Can Kick Your Ass


Great profile by Joshua Green of Tim Gill, a publicity-shy gay millionaire who spearheaded the defeat of anti-gay politicians in 2006.

Together, Gill and [political consultant Ted] Trimpa decided to eschew national races in favor of state and local ones, which could be influenced in large batches and for much less money. Most antigay measures, they discovered, originate in state legislatures. Operating at that level gave them a chance to "punish the wicked," as Gill puts it—to snuff out rising politicians who were building their careers on antigay policies, before they could achieve national influence. Their chief cautionary example of such a villain is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who once compared homosexuality to "man on dog" sex (and was finally defeated last year, at a cost of more than $20 million). Santorum got his start working in the state legislature. As Gill and Trimpa looked at their evolving plan, it seemed realistic. "The strategic piece of the puzzle we'd been missing—consistent across almost every legislature we examined—is that it's often just a handful of people, two or three, who introduce the most outrageous legislation and force the rest of their colleagues to vote on it," Gill explained. "If you could reach these few people or neutralize them by flipping the chamber to leaders who would block bad legislation, you'd have a dramatic effect."

Gill's idea was to identify vulnerable candidates like [Iowa House Speaker] Danny Carroll and move quickly to eliminate them without the burden of first having to win the consent of some risk-averse large organization or board of directors. Another element of this strategy is stealth. Revealing targets only after an election makes it impossible for them to fight back and sends a message to other politicians that attacking gays could put them in the crosshairs. Independence also allowed Gill to pursue an element of his philosophy that chafes many national gay organizations: the belief that enduring acceptance can be won only with Republican support. "If you want a majority, you have to change people's minds," he said, noting that in Colorado, Republicans outnumber Democrats. "Just because you're conservative doesn't mean you're antigay."

There is a powerful argument here against public financing of elections. Public financing is basically dead on the federal level, but it's had some successes in Arizona, Maine, and (temporarily) Vermont. If Iowa had strict financing laws, the effect would have been… the protection of some incumbents who were losing touch with their constituents. (Carroll represented a college town and was barely winning re-election over underfunded schlubs.) The freedom of gay activists to traffic their cash all over the country makes politicians more responsive to their critics. And it's not a one-way street. If Ted Haggard, say, wanted to donate the money he's saved by cold turkey-ing meth and manlove, he could get some of these politicians' backs.