ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A national group of prominent GOP donors that supports gay marriage is pouring new money into lobbying efforts to get Republican lawmakers to vote to make it legal.
American Unity PAC was formed last year to lend financial support to Republicans who bucked the party's longstanding opposition to gay marriage. Its founders are launching a new lobbying organization, American Unity Fund, and already have spent more than $250,000 in Minnesota, where the Legislature could vote on the issue as early as next week.
The group has spent $500,000 on lobbying since last month, including efforts in Rhode Island, Delaware, Indiana, West Virginia and Utah.
Billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican donor Paul Singer launched American Unity PAC. The lobbying effort is the next phase as the push for gay marriage spreads to more states, spokesman Jeff Cook-McCormac told The Associated Press.
"What you have is this network of influential Republicans who really want to see the party embrace the freedom to marry, and believe it's not only the right thing for the country but also good politics," Cook-McCormac said.
In Minnesota, the money has gone to state groups that are lobbying Republican lawmakers and for polling on gay marriage in a handful of suburban districts held by Republicans. So far, only one Minnesota Republican lawmaker has committed to voting to legalize gay marriage: Sen. Branden Petersen, of Andover.
"I think there will be some more. There are legislators out there that are struggling with this," said Carl Kuhl, a former political aide to former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Kuhl's public affairs firm is contracted by Minnesotans United, the lead lobby group for gay marriage in Minnesota and main recipient of American Unity's Minnesota spending.
Gay marriage's fate in Minnesota may rest with the House, where support is seen as shakier than in the Senate. A handful of votes from Republicans could put it over the top. Nearly two dozen House Republicans represent more socially moderate suburbs and might be candidates to vote yes.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he has encouraged advocates of the marriage bill to round up Republican votes, if nothing else than to send a message to Minnesota residents that it's not a partisan proposition. But that will be politically risky; the main opposition group to same-sex marriage, Minnesota for Marriage, has said it will seek consequences for Republicans who stray on gay marriage.
Part of American Unity PAC's original mission was to spend money on behalf of Republican gay marriage supporters. Many GOP lawmakers have faced primary challenges funded in part by anti-gay marriage groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, which argue that the lawmakers had betrayed the party's core principles.
Since forming the lobby group last month, American Unity also spent money to win over Republican lawmakers in Rhode Island, where last week all five Republicans in the state Senate jumped on the gay marriage bandwagon. Rhode Island is on track to legalize gay marriage by next week, which would make it the 11th U.S. state where gay marriage is legal.
There are also plans to lobby federal lawmakers on gay rights issues.
"We intend to work on this effort until every American citizen is treated equally under the law," Cook-McCormac said. Other wealthy, traditionally Republican donors giving money to the group include Seth Klarman, David Herro and Cliff Asness.
Though only one current GOP officeholder in Minnesota is on record supporting gay marriage, a handful of prominent Republicans have spoken out in favor of it. They include former state auditor Pat Anderson and Brian McClung, who was spokesman for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Prominent Republican donors including former politician Wheelock Whitney and businesswoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson have also lent support and donated money.
Since it first formed to campaign against last fall's gay marriage ban and then shifted to pushing for its legalization at the Capitol, Minnesotans United has been building Republican alliances, hiring multiple lobbyists with Republican ties.