Michigan gay rights push marked by out-of-state contributions, pushback from social conservatives

Paul Singer, founder and CEO of Elliott Management Corporation, is helping fund the gay-rights push in Michigan.AP File Photo 

Aug 21, 2014

LANSING, MI — The push to update Michigan’s anti-discrimination law with protections for gay residents has won bipartisan backing from wealthy out-of-state financiers but also prompted pushback from some social conservatives. 

Paul Singer of New York and Tim Gill of Colorado have each given tens of thousands of dollars to campaign and leadership accounts of Republican state Rep. Frank Foster, who is expected to introduce the legislation, and House Speaker Jase Bolger, who would have to put the bill up for a vote.

Singer, a billionaire known for bankrolling Republicans, donated $50,000 to the Bolger Restore Michigan Fund on July 31 and $25,000 to Foster’s Spotlight Michigan fund that same week, according to campaign finance reports. He also gave $1,000 to each of their campaign committees earlier in the month.

While Singer has backed numerous GOP efforts over the past decade, he’s been at odds with the party over gay rights. His son is reportedly gay, and USA Today recently reported that a SUPER PAC he funds is planning to contribute $2 million this year to Republican Congressional candidates that support gay rights.

Gill, a liberal gay rights activist who made his fortune in computer software and has a history of supporting Democrats, gave $50,000 to the Bolger Restore Michigan Fund and $25,000 to the Michigan Spotlight Fund in June.

He also gave $1,000 each to Foster’s campaign committee and three openly gay-Democratic House candidates: Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo and Jeremy Moss of Southfield, who won their August 5 primaries, and Garnet Lewis of Freeland, who did not advance to the general election.

Singer and Gill are also both helping support The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, according to AT&T Michigan President Jim Murray, co-chair of the business group that is pushing lawmakers to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Foster was the only incumbent to lose a state House race primary this month. His opponent, tea party favorite Lee Chatfield, criticized the Petoskey Republican’s support for the gay rights push, but Murray andGov. Rick Snyder have both said they still expect action on the legislation sometime this fall.

While many assumed that the Republican-led Legislature would only take up the issue after the November general election – if at all — Murray said the coalition is hoping for action soon after Labor Day.

“I’m going to push, but the Legislature is going to do it when they’re ready,” Murray said. “It might be September, it might be lame-duck or it might not happen at all. The primaries are out of the way, and once the conventions are out of the way, we’ll have about eight or ten weeks left this session. That’s not a lot of time.”

Elliott-Larsen currently prohibits discrimination in the workplace, housing markets or places of public accommodation based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. The coalition argues that adding LGBT protections would make Michigan a more welcoming place for potential job seekers.

Critics fear that adding sexual orientation to Elliott-Larsen could jeopardize the religious freedom of business owners. The Washington Post on Tuesday reported that two Christian farmers in upstate New York were fined $10,000 for violating the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to allow a lesbian couple to use their barn for a wedding ceremony.

A group of social conservatives on Thursday highlighted the Gill contributions and suggested that “Bolger and other Republican hypocrites in Lansing are now dancing with the devil.” Former State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk also sent out an email attacking Bolger for accepting the contribution from Gill and suggested readers ask him to return the money.

“It is obvious by Mr. Gill’s $50,000 contribution to Jase Bolger’s leadership PAC that he is working hard in Michigan to change the political landscape,” said the email. “What are the paybacks Gill is expecting for his $50,000 investment? What collateral damage will occur to the party in the process? These are the questions that need to be answered.”

Bolger spokesperson Ari Adler noted that Hoogendyk no longer lives in Michigan, dismissed his “flailing attempts at relevance” and said he’d let ““his lack of accomplishments while he was in office speak for themselves.”

As for Elliott-Larsen, “Speaker Bolger believes that Michigan workers should be hired or fired based on their skills and work ethic, and people should not suffer discrimination based on their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs,” Adler said.

“He is working to see if the balance between personal liberties and religious freedoms can be struck in legislation. The reason we don’t have any legislation about this yet is because that question is not fully answered.”

Jonathan Oosting is a Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group. Email him, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter

Source: http://www.mlive.com/