The Gay Marriage Vote And The Power Of Money

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JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 27, 2011

The Gay Marriage Vote And The Power Of Money

Michael Barbaro reports on the powerful influence Republican donors had in helping pass gay marriage in New York:

In the 35th-floor conference room of a Manhattan high-rise, two of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most trusted advisers held a secret meeting a few weeks ago with a group of super-rich Republican donors.

Over tuna and turkey sandwiches, the advisers explained that New York’s Democratic governor was determined to legalize same-sex marriage and would deliver every possible Senate vote from his own party.

Would the donors win over the deciding Senate Republicans? It sounded improbable: top Republican moneymen helping a Democratic rival with one of his biggest legislative goals.

But the donors in the room — the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Dan Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.

Within days, the wealthy Republicans sent back word: They were on board. Each of them cut six-figure checks to the lobbying campaign that eventually totaled more than $1 million.

Nate Silver argues that one lesson of the gay marriage law is that Andrew Cuomo exerted stronger and more decisive leadership than President Obama has on his key issues. I think the lesson here is that wealthy people exert massively disproportionate influence over American politics. Donors in both parties tend to be more socially liberal and economically conservative than the party's voters. A large share of Republican voters favor higher taxes on the rich and oppose cutting Medicare, but those positions have zero GOP representation at the national elected level. Likewise, national Democrats are also far more pro-business than are Democratic voters. If Obama's agenda attracted the support of a large chunk of the Republican donor base, he'd probably attract more Republican support in Congress, which in turn would make moderate Democrats less skittish.

Ben Smith publishes a Republican operative's takeaway from the gay marriage vote:

You can't be too socially conservative and really get the donor class lit up to raise the 100m or so to win a prez primary. (Frankly,this holds for a lot of other things. In both parties the donor class pulls the presidential nominees to the center)  And the values of the donor class really do differ.

And of course the flipside is that you can be extremely economically conservative. And for Democrats, the donor class means you can't be too economically liberal, but donors do reward social liberalism. (All this certainly does help explain why libertarians, even aside from their general distrust of regulation, are so sanguine about the power of campaign donors.) The gay marriage vote is a reminder that the disproportionate influence of donors may be offense as a matter of principle, and its impact may very often be illiberal, but sometimes it has a positive effect, too. If Michelle Bachmann wins the 2012 election, the power of Republican donors will help restrain her rampant theocratic impulses.

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posted in: jonathan chait, new york, turkey, andrew m. cuomo, michael barbaro, senate

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