LGBT Groups Outspend Opponents on ENDA

On ENDA, gay rights groups have the upper hand.

A demonstrator waves a rainbow flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 11, 2009.
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Public opinion has come to the aid of gay rights groups pushing to end discrimination in the workplace, and now so has the gravy train.

Ahead of the Senate's historic vote on a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at work, the LGBT community has proven it has an outpouring of financial support. On the other hand, family groups that have traditionally held the attention of many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, seem to be fading into the woodwork.

A Sunlight Foundation analysis of lobbying disclosure reports found that of the 23 groups who are lobbying on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, only three lobbied against the bill. The National Religious Broadcasters, the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council reportedly spent a little more than $43,000 to stop ENDA in the third quarter. Meanwhile, one LGBT rights group on its own, the Human Rights Campaign, spent more than 10 times as much during the same third-quarter period - $450,000 - to ensure its passage.

[READ: House Won’t Take Up ENDA]

"HRC alone has spent $2 million on this effort and has raised another $500,000 from coalition partners," Fred Sainz, a spokesman for HRC, says of the group's long-term efforts. "We have seen no evidence of an organized opposition. We have seen some emails here and there from time-honored opponents of any measure of equality, but if they've organized a campaign, it certainly hasn't been effective."

Traditional Values Coalition President Andrea Lafferty describes her efforts against ENDA as a "one organization show," an effort where Republican lawmakers are "nervous" to meet with her because "the LGBT groups can be really vicious."

"They are really aggressive and lawmakers are afraid," Lafferty says of the gay rights groups on the hill. She adds that "it was surprising that the side that claims they were discriminated against had so much money to spend on this bill."

This isn't the first time, however, where family value organizations have encountered a gap in funding. After gay marriage passed in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington in 2012, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown blamed his group's defeat on a financial disadvantage.

Lafferty says family value groups are outnumbered and outspent so aggressively that it is difficult to get their side of the story out.

"[Gay rights groups] have spent all this money to deceive the American people and not tell the American people what the bill really does," says Lafferty, who is especially concerned that ENDA protects transgender Americans.

Many GOP groups have stayed away from getting tangled up in the ENDA debate, but advocacy group Heritage Action has flagged it as a key 'no' vote for members hoping to stay on the organization's good side.

"The legislation would severely undermine civil liberties, increase government interference in the labor market, and trample on religious liberty," Heritage wrote in its statement against the bill.

Some businesses see it differently. Nearly 90 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have adopted their own non-discrimination policies. Gay rights groups credit those proactive decisions and the shift in public opinion as a reason for their fundraising success. According to a June Pew Research Center survey, nearly 90 percent of Americans said they know someone who is gay compared to 61 percent who said they knew someone in 1993.

"We went from a crawl to a jog in fairly short order," says Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., regarding the public opinion transformation on ENDA. "That is because almost everyone in America knows someone they love who is gay."

One of those lawmakers is Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who came out in support of gay marriage earlier this year, in support of his son Will, who is gay. Portman, however, would like to see more religious organization exemptions included before he votes 'yes' for ENDA.

"Elected officials have seen a lot of research on this issue and they understand that the trend lines are only headed in one direction and that's up," says Sainz, of HRC.. "They also understand that to millennials - the folks that will constitute the bulk of the voting populace very soon - support for LGBT equality is at 80 percent or above throughout the entire country."