(UPDATE, 3pm: Martha McSally responded this afternoon to Arizona's Politics' article, noting that the national mega-fundraiser was to support three female candidates (out of many): "I am grateful for the support of those who want to see more women in Congress to better represent our country and provide leadership and solutions to DC." Kristen Douglas, McSally's spokesperson, added, "Winning Women was formed to support three promising female candidates." The full statements are below the jump.)
Republican billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer and co-owner of the Chicago Cubs Sylvie Legere Ricketts - and, others - appear to have cloaked their support of Martha McSally and two other female Congressional candidates - calling the joint fundraising effort "Winning Women" instead of acknowledging that marriage equality was the driving force.
Earlier today, Arizona's Politics ran an article updating the "female oriented campaign efforts" by four Arizona women either in Congress or running for Congress ("WOMEN! Updates On 4 Arizona Congressional Candidates' Fundraising Efforts"). The centerpiece of the article was a $360,000 joint fundraiser for Arizona GOP candidate Martha McSally and two others.
"Winning Women" took place in late March, and netted McSally's campaign $109,832.43. McSally is the heavy favorite in the GOP primary for the right to challenge Rep. Ron Barber (D-CD2) in November. However, what appears to have been an effort to support and elect conservative women to Congress (a subject that has been much debated recently) more likely is an effort to support GOP candidates who favor marriage equality.
First, the co-hosts. "Winning Women" was co-hosted by Paul Singer and Sylvie Légère Ricketts. Singer is a billionaire hedge fund CEO (Elliott Advisors), who has made changing the GOP's opposition to same-sex marriage one of his primary political endeavors. He has spent more than $10M in this effort, and was the primary 2012 founder and funder of the American Unity PAC, which is focused on the issue.
Sylvie Légère Ricketts was the other co-host. Her husband, Todd Ricketts, is the CEO of the conservative Ending Spending SuperPAC, and the Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs baseball organization. The Ricketts have also been major supporters of American Unity PAC and efforts to legalize gay marriage in Illinois.
The co-hosts have all (Singers and Légère Ricketts) indicated that their passion to push the GOP towards marriage equality is driven by having family members (son and sister-in-law, respectively) who are homosexual.
Second, the supporters. The Singers - along with persons at Elliott Management and Singers' employees - contributed $123,700 to the fundraiser.* The Ricketts family added another $45,000. The balance came from a variety of persons involved in political and charitable giving in New York and the tri-state area, Chicago, and Florida. A few notable names include WWE founders Linda and Vince McMahon ($18,600), former American Express and AIG chairman Harvey Golub ($10,000) and Candace Straight - "a national moderate Republican leader" ($6,000).
Third, the candidates/beneficiaries. Two years ago, McSally told the conservative Center for Arizona Policy that she would fight for a U.S. Constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between opposite-sex individuals. However, in an interview this past December, she indicated that she did not like the yes-or-no format and thought an essay would have been better. She said the hypothetical presented by the CAP questionaire "is not happening anytime soon" and that it is an issue best left to the states.
The second "Winning Women" beneficiary is Elise Stefanik, who is running in a contested Republican primary in upstate New York. In an interview in January, Stefanik used almost the exact same leave it to the states quote, and added that it is already legal in New York.
The final candidate, who received $110,000 from the joint fundraiser, is Barbara Comstock. She has steered clear of having media reports about her position on same-sex marriage, but has already been attacked by her opponents for accepting money from Singer. (Comstock apparently attempted to defend the donations by saying that Singer has given to lots of other Republican campaigns - Singer especially has supported Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.)
McSally is not facing the same intense primary battles against more conservative candidates that Stefanik and Comstock appear to be, but she has been very cautious in stating any views that might alienate voters in the primary. Rep. Barber is firmly on the record as supporting marriage equality and her position could become a topic then, but as witnessed in the Jim Nintzel interview cited earlier, McSally is able to persistently set the issue aside.
Fourth, the political environment in which the three candidates are operating in. The Republican party is certainly divided about the issue of same-sex marriage amidst the rapidly-changing legal and political playing field. While a Pew Research Center poll this year shows that 61% of young Republicans favor marriage equality, only 39% of Republicans overall share that view. (A majority in every other age group opposes it, and only 22% of seniors (65+) favor it.) Primary elections have tended to favor the opponents.
Fifth, these three candidates do not have anything else explaining why the joint fundraiser was limited to these three. They are not the three most hotly-contested districts; McSally's is, the other two are not. Arizona's other female-GOP-Air Force-conservative-frontrunner-in-a-hotly-contested-district - Wendy Rogers (in CD9) was not included, for example. The Republican Party has touted a number of other up-and-coming female candidates as part of their Project GROW (where they feature McSally and others as leaves hanging from a tree); yet this joint fundraiser did not include them.
Each of these data points - taken individually - should not be enough to convince you that female empowerment was not the key driver in this joint fundraiser. Singer - and, people at his company and his attorneys - have issues other than same-sex marriage that they are interested in. Immigration reform or securities laws, for examples. Likewise, the Légère Ricketts. And, neither couple (yes, Singer's wife also maxed out for the Winning Women) has shown passion for boosting the ranks of Republican women in Congress. The candidates/beneficiaries have positions and opinions on subjects other than same-sex marriage - and, even their public semi-positions on that issue are hazy.
However, marriage equality is the only passionate issue at the intersection of Singers and Légère Ricketts. And, they are the ones who chose to support these three candidates out of a wide universe of Republicans (women and men).
The candidates have no strong positions on issues that excite the mega-donors and differentiate them from all of the other female GOP candidates. And, their vague positions on same-sex marriage - in the slowly-changing climate of the GOP - might signal that they either are already in agreement with the hosts, or are very persuadable. (Although raising $360,000 likely indicates the former rather than the latter.)
Whether or not you agree with the Singers' and Légère Ricketts' views on same-sex marriage, the most interesting aspect of cloaking the joint fundraiser as "Winning Women" is that Republican candidates (and fundraisers) are still apparently reluctant to declare their openness to movement (evolution) on the issue.
Arizona's Politics has asked co-hosts, McSally's campaign, and prominent gay Republicans to comment on the current state of mind of the GOP regarding this topic, and will update as warranted. (If YOU would like to comment, please leave one at the bottom of this post.)
Full statement by Martha McSally and spokesperson Kristen Douglas:
"I am grateful for the support of those who want to see more women in Congress to better represent our country and provide leadership and solutions to DC. Ron Barber has been asleep at the switch on issues that are extremely important to Southern Arizona, such as fighting for the A-10 and Davis-Monthan. That is why Nancy Pelosi is stepping in to try to save his job in November. Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman that is why I fully intend on replacing Congressman Barber on Election Day." Martha McSally
"Winning Women was formed to support three promising female candidates and we are honored for the nationwide support to get us to victory in November." Kristen Douglas
* This does not include the approximately $12,000 contributed by 11 persons at Kleinberg, Kaplan - a favorite law firm of Elliott Management.
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