Now Sulloway & Hollis’s Jay Surdukowski has written an article in the Fall 2012 New Hampshire Bar Journal where he tracks the rise of the NH Super PAC, the defeat of the gay marriage repeal bill and the ’12 Gubernatorial race between Ovide Lamontagne and Maggie Hassan.
Intriguingly, the first New Hampshire Super PAC to take advantage of the new landscape was an unlikely group supporting Republicans who voted against repealing New Hampshire’s marriage equality law, RSA 457‐A. Republican Speaker William O’Brien’s attempt to undo the marriage law signed by Governor John Lynch was soundly defeated in no small part due to a large bloc of Republicans who sided with Democrats on the issue. An early‐September filing of the New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality (NHRFE) PAC revealed something pretty astonishing: An unprecedented $100,000 donation from a New York hedge fund founder named Paul Singer to support those Republicans who broke ranks with House Speaker O’Brien on the issue of marriage. Mr. Singer is ostensibly a unique figure in the upper echelons of the Republican money game.
A mega‐donor to former President George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, a funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and a significant donor to US Senator Kelly Ayotte (his firm was the top source of her donations in 2008), Singer has also bankrolled efforts to pass or defend gay marriage in a number of states. He also founded a national Super PAC for this express purpose. He has stated that he wishes to provide cover to Republicans who face severe consequences from the right, which has historically been hostile to equality initiatives.
NHRFE spent most of Singer’s donation in the primary, mailing literature supporting 40 House members defending their seats from right‐wing challenges, and one member seeking to move up to the Sen‐ ate in a squeaker of a primary. NHRFE was wildly successful, boasting a 73 percent success rate in the candidates it supported, including the razor‐thin victory margin for Representative John Reagan over Loudon farmer Howard Pearl.In a message posted to its website, NHRFE chair Sean Owen declared: “Republican voters showed strong support for pro‐equality Republican legislators who did the right thing, ensuring they can beat back any attacks from single‐minded opposition forces.” NHRFE claims that it rebuffed the efforts of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) across the board in all New Hampshire House races where it targeted members for defeat due to their votes against repeal.
As if the identity of the source money for NHRFE’s efforts wasn’t intriguing enough, NOM’s New Hampshire affiliate, Cornerstone Action, condemned the donation as illegal and filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office despite the opinion letter of August 1, 2012, which blessed New Hampshire Super PACs. Cornerstone’s then‐acting director, Shannon McGinley, in a press release, recounted: “I received a postcard from NHRFE in my mailbox this week supporting pro gay ‘marriage’ candidates, and it didn’t say anything about marriage on it; instead, it focused on how the named Republicans allegedly support free markets, economic growth and jobs, which I found deceptive. When I looked up more information about the NHRFE and what they really represent, and then I found them in such violation of New Hampshire’s campaign finance law, I knew that I had to take action to make sure the public knows about how gay ‘marriage’ proponents are attempting to save their misguided law at all costs.” McGinley alleged in the press release that NHREF is in “gross violation of the law.”
Columnist Darrin Hurwitz commented in the Huffington Post that Cornerstone’s position against the pro‐gay marriage efforts of the Super PAC did not square with the ongoing efforts of Cornerstone’s parent organization to roll back campaign finance laws in numerous states.19 Hurwitz wondered whether the seeming shift was NOM turning over a new leaf or just a matter of political expedience. His closing dig is a counterpoint to McGinley’s indignation and underscores the passion that money in politics provokes: “…marriage‐equality opponents’ constitutional legal principles are endlessly shifting to best serve their latest political opportunities. And as a result, NOM’s First Amendment right on one day is their opponent’s so‐called illegal act on another.” Strong words on both sides of the debate over Singer’s 100 grand.
But the tale gets stranger.
While Cornerstone Action’s complaint over Singer’s $100,000 donation was pending,23 Cornerstone Action accepted an $85,000 donation from a Colorado PAC known as CitizenLink, an affiliate of the social issues advocacy group, Focus on the Family, founded by James Dobson. This was a rather swift about‐face from accusations of “gross violation of the law.” In the weeks before the election, Cornerstone spent much of the money on an ad attacking former senator and now Governor Hassan for her “obsession” with “fringe” social issues.
Not to be outdone, Singer donated another $140,000 in late October to support 55 incumbent Republican legislators who either voted against repealing gay marriage or who publicly support gays and lesbians. All but two of the candidates were House members. Two were senate candidates – Republican incumbent Nancy Stiles and District 17 nominee John Reagan. Many of the socially moderate House members prevailed and both Stiles and Reagan were elected despite the Democratic wave that saw the NH House and Executive Council go blue and that saw Republicans barely hang on to the state senate by a few hundred votes in Districts 9 and 16.
Until an act of the legislature or a court decision, the squabble over this kind of donation by arguably perfect strangers to New Hampshire may see itself repeated, as long as the attorney general’s letter stands, leaving open the door to the Singers and Focus on the Familys of the world to raise and spend limitless amounts on Granite State elections.