SAN FRANCISCO—With less than a week to go before the election, the heated battle over a California ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage has begun to shatter spending records and draw high-profile political figures into the fray. According to outside estimates, the campaigns for and against Proposition 8 have raised more than $60 million in donations, setting a new record nationally for a social policy initiative—and trumping every other race in the country this year in spending except the presidential contest.
By comparison, the second-highest campaign spending numbers in the country can be found in Minnesota's Senate race between the Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and comedian Al Franken, where the sides have raised about $35 million combined.
Similar initiatives to ban same-sex marriage in Arizona and Florida have raised just over $11 million combined.
The expensive California media market has been saturated with TV ads for weeks as both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage jockey for attention in the most populous state in the country. When the initiative qualified for the ballot earlier this year, campaign experts predicted the two sides would raise a total of $30 million. But as recent polls began to show the race tightening, the money-raising arms race began. According to campaign finance records, the biggest single donor to the campaign to ban same-sex marriage is currently the Knights of Columbus, a Connecticut-based Catholic fraternal organization, which has donated $1.4 million. As of last week, roughly 40 percent of the campaign's overall donations have come from members of the Mormon church.
The largest donor to the campaign defending gay marriage is the California Teachers Association, which has raised $1.3 million to fight the initiative. Proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage have each raised roughly $30 million to date, about as much as was raised in all 24 states that have had same-sex marriage initiatives on their ballots since 2004.
"This is the ballgame. There is no other battle than this one, with all due respect to my colleagues in Arizona and Florida," Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for "Yes on 8," the effort to ban gay marriage, told reporters earlier this week. "If you are concerned about marriage and how it gets to be defined, this is where it will be decided."
As donors have reached for their wallets, both sides have also been seeking out high-profile endorsements. In addition to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who said recently that she approved of a federal ban on gay marriage, Rick Warren, the evangelical minister who hosted a presidential debate at Saddleback Church this summer, threw his support behind the effort to ban same-sex marriage last week. "For 5,000 years, every culture and every religion—not just Christianity—has defined marriage as a contract between men and women," Warren said on Friday. "There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population." John McCain has also said he supports efforts in California to ban same-sex marriage.
Joe Biden, meanwhile, said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres last week that he would not support the effort to eliminate marriage for same-sex couples in the state. "If I lived in California, I'd clearly vote against Proposition 8," said the Democratic vice presidential candidate. "I think it's regressive, I think it's unfair, and so I'd vote no." Barack Obama has stayed mum on the subject, though he has indicated in the past that while he personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, he does not support efforts like the one in California to amend state constitutions to ban same-sex unions.
Dianne Feinstein, California's popular Democratic senator, appeared for the first time last night in a TV commercial urging residents to vote against the ban. "[Proposition] 8 would be a terrible mistake for California," she says. "It's about discrimination, and we must always say no to that." In another tough new TV spot, Jack O'Connell, the California superintendent of public instruction, also voices his strong opposition to the attempted ban, condemning recent TV ads that imply that supporting the rights of gay couples to marry will affect what's taught in public schools. "Proposition 8 has nothing to do with schools or kids," O'Connell says in the new commercial. "Our schools aren't required to teach anything about marriage, and using kids to lie about that is shameful."
Recent polls show the initiative is currently too close to call, with one poll showing 48 percent of likely voters are inclined to support the effort to ban same-sex marriage, while 45 percent intend to vote against it. The initiative will require a majority to pass.