State Sen. Roy McDonald’s support for same-sex marriage unleashed a flood of contributions from local celebrities, national gay-rights activists and online contributors, according to filings submitted to the state Board of Elections.
McDonald, R-Saratoga, saw his campaign fund quadruple since the January filing, as he raised $166,120 in the six-month period. He took in six times as much money as he did during the same period in 2009 and raised about a third of what he amassed in all of 2010, which was an election year. McDonald’s campaign has a closing balance of $148,084, after spending $53,215 this period.
A vast majority of the donations were recorded shortly after the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, with money coming in from all over the country and in the thousands from high profile people like local actor David Hyde Pierce and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Additionally, McDonald received tens of thousands from gay-rights activists Tim Gill, Robert Ziff and Frank Selvaggi, who all gave money to at least two other Republican state senators that supported same-sex marriage.
For the first time ever, McDonald said he also received online contributions. They ranged from $100 to $10,300. “People were calling us up, saying they wanted to donate money,” McDonald said, explaining why they formed the “Stand With Roy!” site.
The senator wouldn’t connect his support for same-sex marriage to his personal record-setting fund raising and argued that Bloomberg has always been supportive of his campaign. “I’ve known him for a while,” McDonald said. “He’s given money to the Senate [Republican] Campaign Committee and this time he just gave it to me directly.”
There are also a variety of first-time donors who contributed to McDonald in the aftermath of the same-sex marriage vote. “I had some people email … and some nice letters saying I usually don’t give to public officials,” McDonald said.
Elliott Masie of Saratoga Springs, a regular campaign contributor and a major organizer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, made his first contribution to McDonald.
“I don’t think I’ve ever donated to Sen. McDonald before,” he said. “The reason we decided to support Sen. McDonald right now is because of the courageous and historic vote he made for marriage equality. It was something brave to do. I’m sure that many of his traditional supporters are not thrilled with him.”
According to Masie, marriage equality is a business issue and he feels like McDonald’s vote represented a positive step for economic development. “I feel like he represented the business interests of the district by encouraging same-sex couples to come here,” Masie said.
Yet, while McDonald’s vote ingratiated him with same-sex marriage proponents, he angered its opponents who have traditionally made up his conservative base. Brian Telesh, chairman of the Clifton Park Republican Committee, said McDonald’s support for same-sex marriage and certain economic votes had ensured that social and fiscal conservatives would abandon him.
“I’m starting to wonder if that is going to be his future and his donation base,” Telesh said. He characterized this new support as a “double-edged sword,” as he predicted that same-sex marriage advocates might move on by 2012 and McDonald will be left to count on his old base, which might not be there. “People are going to remember.”
This prediction was strongly rebutted by Steve Greenberg, a pollster for the Siena College Research Institute.
“Given what I have seen over the last decade from the pro same-sex community, I would be very surprised if they don’t [help] Sen. McDonald and the other three Republican senators [who voted for same-sex marriage].” Greenberg said. “If they saw any trouble, I think they would go out of their way to raise money, support and help them in anyway they could.”
Masie said McDonald could count on people like him and his wife if “traditional Republicans” stopped supporting him.
The large fund raising totals will be especially important, Greenberg said, considering that McDonald could be running along new district lines next year and could face a primary challenge.
“It’s going to be a different kind of landscape for the senator … assuming he runs for election next year,” Greenberg said. “It’s understandable that he would try to raise as much money as possible.”
All figures used in this article are based on filings reported to the state Board of Elections by McDonald’s “Committee to Elect McDonald to the Senate.” The entire filing from McDonald can be viewed at the Board of Elections’s website at http://ow.ly/5FFQi.