If you look at the state's financial records for the PAC opposing gay marriage this November, the campaign looks anemic. Preserve Marriage Washington has raised $581,000 and only about one-third that amount remains as cash on hand... hardly enough for a statewide ad blitz before November. That is to say—on paper—the campaign has created the appearance of being a small, local operation, run out of the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood by an activist named Joseph Backholm.
Don’t buy it for a second.
Records from local television stations and cable providers obtained by The Stranger show Preserve Marriage Washington recently reserved nearly $1.5 million in commercials for the final weeks before the general election to reject Referendum 74. For example, records from KING-TV in Seattle show a reservation of $164,000 in TV spots—targeting the morning and evening news programs—beginning on October 15. And the ads, running in media markets throughout the state, don't look nice. The spots were reserved by Mission: Public Affairs, a Sacramento-based consulting firm run by Frank Schubert, the architect of divisive ad campaigns (like this one that depicts a young girl being taught about gay marriage at school) that helped overturn same-sex marriage laws in California and Maine in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
This not only telegraphs a deluge of loathsome ads, it seems to affirm suspicions that the anti-gay campaign does, in fact, have big, national money waiting in the wings.
Preserve Marriage Washington has tried to downplay its potential for massive donations, despite a campaign booster saying in February that “there was a commitment of $1 million made to this campaign” and the National Organization for Marriage indicating that they expected up to $6 million in spending.
Like all contributions, pledges must be reported to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. But the campaign never reported a $1 million pledge. State officials took Backholm at his word that there were no actual pledges. But now, with $1.5 million in ads in the pipeline (not to mention the cost of producing them), it looks to me more like those pledges were, in fact, real. It also looks like the state let them off too easy.
This wouldn’t be the only curious financial reporting. The Preserve Marriage Washington blog last week announced that a benefactor committed a huge sum: “Thanks to a generous donor, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar up to $100,000!” the blog says. Again, the state shows no records of a pledge of $100,000. If it was made after September 1, the campaign won't need to report the mysterious donor until October 16. Meanwhile, according to election records, more than four-dozen of the campaign’s individual contributors who have given over $100 failed to identify their occupation and employers, both required under state disclosure laws. Records say the state has "requested" that information.
Neither Preserve Marriage Washington nor Mission: Public Affairs replied to request for comment. Will state election officials press them to report their mysterious pledges—and their donors' employers—so the public knows who is really behind this campaign? I have a call into the PDC, but so far the PDC seems to have let them off the hook.