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GOP fuels gay marriage ban

The Florida Republican Party donates $150,000 to the group trying to get the constitutional amendment on the '06 ballot.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published January 12, 2006


The group trying to put a gay marriage ban on the Florida ballot in 2006 is being bankrolled by the state Republican Party.

New state campaign finance records show that of the $193,000 that has been raised by Florida4marriage.org, the political committee working to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, $150,000 of it came in a single donation from the Florida Republican Party.

On Nov. 25, the party made the contribution, records show.

"It certainly was helpful," Florida4Marriage chairman John Stemberger said of the donation, which he said was unsolicited. "I'm not at liberty to discuss the details, but they came to us and gave us the money."

The big contribution was something of a surprise because the effective head of the state party, Gov. Jeb Bush, has been decidedly tepid about the proposed constitutional amendment. He has characterized it as well-meaning but unnecessary because state law already bars same-sex marriage.

"Gov. Bush was not aware of the contribution ... ," said Alia Faraj, a Bush spokeswoman. "The party has a right to participate in the process and support initiatives that reflect their principles."

Having the ban on the ballot in November could help GOP candidates by energizing turnout among religious conservatives.

Florida GOP executive director Andy Palmer noted similar measures boosted Republican turnout in battleground states in 2004, but he said the party wanted to help the effort in Florida because it is "totally in line with the Republican Party philosophy."

The contribution was listed in state party financial reports covering the final three months of 2005. The reports show the Republican Party raised $4.97-million in the last quarter of the year, including $100,000 each from The Villages mega development in north-central Florida; Venture Four, a real estate and agriculture business based in Jupiter; and Olson & Associates, a Destin-based developer.

Democrats raised $1.77-million, which state chairwoman Karen Thurman called a strong showing for a party with virtually no power in Tallahassee. Among the biggest donors to the Democrats were $40,000 from Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, West Palm Beach trial lawyers; $30,000 from a legal company associated with trial lawyer John Morgan; $25,000 from the Florida Education Association teachers union; and $25,000 from investor and Everglades preservation activist Paul Tudor Jones (who gave the same to the GOP.)

Supporters say the amendment would protect Florida against "activist" judges who might overturn the existing law. But it's unclear whether advocates will manage to collect the necessary 600,000 signatures by Feb. 1 to qualify for the ballot.

Stemberger said the group has collected at least 250,000 signatures so far, and volunteers are working feverishly at 10 makeshift processing centers at churches and offices in Central Florida.

"It is clear we are not where we want to be," he said, "but we are seeing tens of thousands (of signatures) a day and if the pace continues we could easily do this."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 15, 2006, 10:36:35]


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