Lesbian PAC Puts Money Behind Tammy Baldwin
This election season, a new group of players has entered the world of major political donating opened by the Citizens United case: LPAC, the first-ever lesbian super PAC.
Spearheaded by a group of lesbian advocates including activist Urvashi Vaid and Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts, LPAC says it will support pro-lesbian, pro-women candidates regardless of political affiliation, gender or sexual orientation. While LGBT and women's rights PACs exist, LPAC hopes to put a spotlight on unique issues it says can sometimes get overshadowed.
"Last fall, a group of women got together in New York and we started thinking about ways to thoughtfully engage in the political process and create a forum where lesbian voices were heard more clearly," said LPAC Chair and Spokesperson Sarah Schmidt. "We felt like our voices got drowned out in the conversation and we started to see how our issues might be slightly different than the issues of gay men, for example, who have had a seat at the table in many of these conversations."
Talks turned into planning, collaborating with LGBT and women's PACs the Victory Fund and Emily's List, respectively, and finding donors.
Since its official launch this July, LPAC has already given $112,000 to the senatorial campaign of Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, with the help of high profile lesbian donors like actress Jane Lynch and tennis legend Billie Jean King. If elected, Baldwin will be the first openly gay U.S. senator.
LPAC hopes to spend $1 million on the November election.
"We want to know that our dollars really have an impact, we're not like a multi-million dollar PAC yet, so we're really trying to be smart about how we invest in races that can have a difference and support candidates who really care deeply about our issues," Schmidt said.
Recently, LPAC announced more of its political slate for the upcoming election, endorsing Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. It’s also backing three candidates for Michigan’s Supreme Court (which is expected to hear some important upcoming social cases): Bridget Mary McCormack, Judge Connie Marie Kelley and Judge Shelia Johnson.
LPAC is also taking a stand on two state ballot initiatives, supporting Maine’s same-sex marriage initiative and opposing Florida’s Amendment 6, an abortion amendment that could strip away women’s right to privacy.
"Our goal is to support candidates who are going to be champions for ending discrimination, protecting reproductive freedom, supporting women’s access to quality healthcare and furthering social, racial and economic justice," Schmidt said. "We certainly are very values-oriented."
She said LPAC focuses on state and federal candidates, but would certainly give consideration to smaller-scale candidates like Christine Quinn, who is running for mayor of New York City. The group solicits small donations as well as big ones.
"I think LPAC is a fine idea, I’m all in favor of putting more support behind lesbian candidates and LGBT-friendly candidates," said activist and Gay USA co-host Ann Northrop. "I guess my main concern, because of course we all have concerns these days about these PACs, is transparency, but I don’t know how transparent they’ll be about their donors. I would certainly be concerned about anonymous or concealed big money donations as I would be from anybody anywhere."
So far, LPAC has named Lynch and King as big name supporters, and plans on announcing more high profile donors in the near future.
"What I’m more concerned about at the moment," Northrop said, "is the right-wing Republican donors who are supporting marriage equality and are getting a lot of kudos for that when they’re giving 10, to 100, to 1,000 times as much to support Mitt Romney and even more right-wing candidates across the country."
Some activists question whether joining the super PAC arena is the best or most honest way to work toward advancing LGBT and women’s rights.
"I’m not too excited about it personally," said Cassidy Gardner, of the New York City-based grassroots organization Queerocracy. "I think a big concern of mine is keeping corporate money out of politics and this just sort of makes it another way in. These are the lesbian elite, people at the top of the totem pole, and I really don’t think any change is going to come from the top, it has to come from the bottom."
She believes super PACS by their very nature serve the interests of the powerful first and foremost.
"I’m happy that there’s a conversation started and I am all about lesbian solidarity, but I just don’t think that a super PAC can encompass the needs of all lesbians. I don’t think that you can encapsulate that," Gardner said. "There needs to be more conversation and interclass mingling and dialogues that we just don’t see in politics in the U.S. and especially, unfortunately not in LGBT politics."
But others view forming a super PAC as a smart strategy for lesbians to have a real voice in politics.
"I’m not a big fan of super PACs, but that’s the rules of the game today, so I think it’s an extraordinarily empowering moment for the lesbian community. I’m a strong supporter and I sent them a personal check," said activist David Mixner, who formed the first gay and lesbian PAC in the 1970s, when money from gay donors was stigmatized. He noted that his PAC, the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles, was one of the first organizations of its kind to have a fifty-fifty male-to-female ratio of board members.
"I think it’s been a powerful, unique coalition and I really am excited because it not only deals with LGBT issues, but especially in this crucial election where women are under attack by the Republican party, I think there’s a really special unique need this year," Mixner said. "And we cannot forget one of the most exciting developments this year of possibly seeing the first LGBT person sitting in the Senate. That is something I never even thought I’d live long enough to see."
LPAC is currently not headquartered but is a collaborative, cross-country operation. Schmidt hopes it will grow to play an important role influencing elections beyond 2012.
"We want to be successful in engaging women who haven’t engaged before in the political process and be part of a conversation that shapes policy," she said. "We want to create something here that lives beyond November."