Thursday, February 5, 1998


Gay rights law backers lead funding

By Susan Kinzie, Of the NEWS Staff -- AUGUSTA - Mark Katz crunched through iced-over snow to get to a small shell-colored cottage at the edge of Togus Pond, unlocked the door and pointed out the sweeping view across the ice.

Campaign donations come in many forms.

The house where his wife, Sylvia, grew up, where she lived as an adult and where they spent weekends with the canoe after they were married, is for sale for about $70,000. The Katzes plan to donate up to $10,000 of that sale to Maine Won't Discriminate, the political action committee that opposes the question on the ballot Feb. 10.

"Fair is fair," Mark Katz said by way of explanation for their support: They do not believe that people should be denied fair access to jobs, credit, housing or accommodations because of their sexual orientation. The couple has donated money and time to Maine Won't Discriminate in the past, but this year with a new business making orthopedic pillows, they are hard put to come up with either, he said.

A group of legislators, supporters of the gay rights law passed by the Legislature last spring, has talked about jointly buying the cottage. It would give them a place to stay in Augusta. And it would give a big check to Maine Won't Discriminate.

It won't be its first big check.

In the last filing period, from Jan. 6 through Jan. 29, Maine Won't Discriminate doubled its previous total of contributions for the campaign, with more than $200,000 having come in from donors across the state and the country this month. Of more than $400,000 raised for this campaign, there is about $65,000 left. They have spent thousands of dollars on polling, more than $30,000 for direct mail, and more than $130,000 so far for television advertising.

Maine Won't Discriminate spokesman Joe Cooper says that the Christian Coalition will launch an "ad blitz" Friday afternoon.

"An ad blitz, huh?" Michael Heath said, laughing a bit wistfully. He's the executive director of the Christian Civic League, the other group which got the people's veto question on the ballot by gathering signatures last summer. The two political action committees which he co-chairs with Paul Volle, the executive director of the Christian Coalition of Maine, did not file a campaign finance report by the 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday. That leaves them subject to a penalty based on how late the report is and how much money they have raised and spent.

Heath had not seen the final numbers, but said he would be surprised if the total donations were much more than $100,000.

"There are television commercials probably starting Friday starring me," Heath said, "that has nothing to do with the Christian Coalition. Randy Tate [the executive director of the national office of the Christian Coalition] is going to be in a radio ad, but that will be a very limited buy.

"And Gary Bauer's group [Family Research Council] is planning to do some advertising this weekend. I can't say the amount they're going to invest, but I heard the other side filed $400,000 - it's a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot less," Heath said.

"Maybe they know something I don't" about support at the national level, he said. "I hope so!" There will be speakers from all over the country in Augusta today, with a rally sponsored by the Christian Coalition and the Christian Civic League.

A small group called Citizens Against Regulatory Excess for Maine, which is also opposed to the gay rights law, did file on time and reported total donations of about $1,100.

There are five groups supporting the anti-discrimination law, with Maine Won't Discriminate dwarfing the others. The Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and Mainers for Equal Rights each raised about $1,000. The Maine National Organization for Women political action committee had nearly $3,000, of which it had spent about $500. And Midcoast Won't Discriminate had raised about $3,400, nearly $1,000 of which was spent for newspaper ads in a local paper.

But all of the really big checks - $10,000 each from several people in Maine - and big donations like $7,000 worth of phone use from the insurance company UNUM, went to Maine Won't Discriminate.

If the house sells, this won't be the first donation the Katzes make to the campaign; they donated the use of part of the building they own in Hallowell. Last fall they opened their business to hundreds of volunteers who came to check signatures on the people's veto petitions.

"We're a bit ambivalent" about selling a house that has so many memories, Mark Katz said. "But we're not sorry ... we want to make sure the issue gets voted on properly on February 10th. It's a human rights issue, it's one of the very fundamental questions about the state of Maine we all live in."

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