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Gay marriage: Clooney fundraiser a hint of coming Obama money boom (+video)

President Obama's support for gay marriage is energizing gay and lesbian activists, whose support could help offset Wall Street's support for Mitt Romney. The Clooney fundraiser was just a taste.

By Staff writer / May 11, 2012

President Obama arrives at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., aboard Marine One, before attending a fundraiser at actor George Clooney's home in Los Angeles Thursday night.

Larry Downing/REUTERS

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WASHINGTON

President Obama’s decision to go public in support of same-sex marriage marked a historic moment for the presidency and the nation’s gay and lesbian community – and also set off a torrent of fundraising appeals that could change the fundraising math for this fall's presidential race.

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“Obviously yesterday we made some news,” President Obama told $40,000-a-plate guests at a fundraiser at the home of George Clooney in Studio City, Calif., on Thursday. The event raised nearly $15 million, expected to be a record.

Mr. Obama's statement supporting marriage equality for all couples fulfills a longstanding demand of a critical group of donors – the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community. On Monday, the president is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser in New York sponsored by gay and Latino supporters. On June 6, he heads back to Los Angeles for a LGBT gala, which organizers say quickly exceeded its 700-person limit after the president’s announcement.

Gay activists are prominent players in the Obama 2012 campaign, including finance director Rufus Gifford, Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias, and White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard. In addition, the president has a designated outreach team to the LGBT community.

Some 1 in 6 of the president’s top campaign “bundlers” – that is, donors who solicit contributions from others and deliver them to candidates – publicly identify themselves as gay, according to a report this week by the Washington Post. The Center for Responsive politics last fall identified “at least 12 prominent gay and lesbian rights advocates, who together had bundled at least $2.7 million for the Obama campaign.”

Even before this week’s statement on gay marriage, the Obama administration claimed “historic strides” on behalf of the LGBT community. These include expanding federal civil rights legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity, ending the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, and directing hospitals receiving Medicare to allow visitation and medical-decision rights to LGBT patients and their partners.

Still, until this week, prominent gay activists had been openly at odds with the president over gay marriage as well as over his failure to issue a promised executive order to ban discrimination by federal contractors over sexual orientation or gender identity.

Moreover, this disappointment over failed promises was taking a toll on fundraising. Overall campaign contributions from gay and lesbian rights interest groups, directed mainly to Democrats, fell to a 16-year low in 2010 – and has dropped even further in the 2012 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Overall contributions from PACs or individuals affiliated with gay- and lesbian-rights interest groups totaled just $590,000 so far this cycle,” according to a CRP blog post on May 9. “Even if that figure doubles in the next nine months, it would fall short of the $1.3 million contributed in the 2010 cycle, and well below the $1.8 million raised in 2008.”

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