News Column

GOP super PAC plans gay-rights push

August 17, 2014

By Fredreka Schouten, @fschouten, USA TODAY

A Republican group tied to hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer plans to spend at least $2 million up to Election Day to boost congressional candidates who share its views in favor of gay rights.

American Unity's push comes after a string of recent victories, including little-noticed state contests in Illinois, Nevada, Minnesota and Hawaii, where it helped Republican candidates -- vulnerable over gay-marriage votes -- survive primary challenges.

The group has drawn up plans to back seven congressional candidates before November's elections and could add more to the roster, said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser to American Unity PAC and its policy arm, American Unity Fund. They include incumbents such as Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican who announced his support for gay marriage in May, and Richard Tisei, an openly gay Republican making his second bid for a U.S. House seat in Massachusetts.

The super PAC has spent $700,000 in a congressional primary this year to help Republican Rep. Richard Hanna beat back a Tea Party-backed challenger in Upstate New York. Hanna, a two-term incumbent, backs a federal bill that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"For many years, there's been a huge fear from Republican elected officials that if they showed courage on issues like this, would they be able to survive politically?" Cook-McCormac said.

In all, the group has raised nearly $9million through its three branches -- a super PAC, the tax-exempt arm focused on policy issues and a third group that organizes donors to support candidates.

Singer, the founder of Elliott Management and a leading force in Republican efforts to legalize gay marriage, is the largest donor to the American Unity super PAC at nearly $2 million, federal records show. Another billionaire, Boston investment manager Seth Klarman, has donated $1 million.

American Unity's strategy varies by contest. In Illinois and Minnesota this year, it helped launch state-focused super PACs to back like-minded Republicans in primaries. In other states, it has encouraged its network of donors to send campaign checks directly to at-risk candidates.

Some examples:

•An affiliated super PAC, Freedom Minnesota, spent more than $125,000 to help state Rep. Jenifer Loon, the No. 2 Republican in the state House, survive a primary challenge last week that focused on her vote in May 2013 to legalize gay marriage.

•In Hawaii and Nevada, American Unity raised money on behalf of its favored candidates, including Hawaii state Rep. Cynthia Thielen. This month, Thielen, the only Republican in the state Legislature to vote for the state's same-sex marriage law, beat back a challenge from Joan Hood, a Pentecostal pastor.

•In Illinois, affiliated Illinois Unity PAC spent $155,000 to help turn out the vote for two Republicans, state Reps. Ed Sullivan and Ron Sandack. The groups also helped raise money for state Rep. Tom Cross' primary bid for state treasurer. The lawmakers were the only three Republicans in the state House to back the state's same-sex marriage measure last November. All three prevailed in the primary in March -- Sandack by only 153 votes.

Sandack said the group's mailings that landed in his suburban Chicago district didn't mention the gay-rights vote but offered "good publicity about my fiscal conservatism and the good-government policies I champion, issues that could have been drowned out."


Seth Perlman, AP

Boston Globe via Getty Images

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Source: USA Today

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