Monday, December 14, 2009

The Companies Behind the Hate

A fascinating article was recently published in the New York Times on the marketing companies behind anti-gay campaigns such as Proposition 8:

Published: December 12, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — As the political battle over same-sex marriage plays out in state capitals across the country, several California companies have emerged as the go-to players for opponents of the marriages.

One of the companies, Mar/Com Services Inc., lists its business address here in San Francisco, a city well known for its large and politically active gay population. When Maine residents opposed to a new law permitting same-sex marriage decided earlier this year to challenge it, they hired Mar/Com to do the production work for the television and radio advertisements.

Of the $2.7 million spent to pass the Maine measure, about 75 percent flowed to companies in California, according to campaign disclosure documents. And while large chunks of that money were subsequently paid out to television and radio stations in Maine, California companies billed hundreds of thousands of dollars for consulting work, phone lists, printing and other services.

Central to this cottage industry is Schubert Flint Public Affairs, a company based in Sacramento that headed the winning campaign for Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage. Frank Schubert, the company’s president, said it was “not like we took the California campaign and photocopied it and took it to Maine, but we took some of the things we learned.” He said same-sex marriage is not “what our firm is devoted to,” but rather “is one area that has been very active in the last couple of years.”

Maggie Gallagher, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage, hired Schubert Flint to develop radio advertisements in New Jersey and New York and put together an advertisement featuring Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California USA, who has voiced her opposition to same-sex marriage. The National Organization for Marriage has fought against same-sex marriage efforts in Maine and New York — where a bill to legalize the unions was defeated this month — as well as in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

“Other political consultants have also had success on this issue,” Ms. Gallagher said in an e-mail message. “But Schubert Flint Public Affairs is a highly regarded firm with a winning track record.”
Jesse Connolly, the manager of the unsuccessful campaign to uphold same-sex marriage in Maine, said the California influence was profound. “I think it’s pretty clear that Frank Schubert and his vendor friends have decided there’s big money to be made in these fights,” Mr. Connolly said in an e-mail message. “It was Schubert on the stage election night being cheered. The consultant from Sacramento.” Mr. Schubert’s firm was paid more than $325,000 for its work and expenses on the Maine measure as its consultant. About $84,000 was paid to four other California vendors regularly used by Schubert Flint, including a company that makes advertising door hangers.

The company that received the most money, according to campaign disclosure statements in Maine, was Mar/Com, whose president, Bill Criswell, appears to also be the president and chief executive of Criswell Associates, a San Francisco advertising and marketing company. Mar/Com, which was formally incorporated as Marketing/Communications Inc. and lists its current business address as a rented mailbox in downtown San Francisco, was paid about $1.6 million, backers of the same-sex marriage repeal, though Mr. Schubert said most of that money was passed on to television and radio stations. “When the money goes from the client to Criswell, the vast percentage of that money — 85 percent plus — is then channeled to the stations,” Mr. Schubert said in an e-mail message.

Criswell has been strongly criticized by some liberal bloggers in San Francisco who say it is inappropriate for a company based here to be involved in overturning gay rights. San Francisco company Criswell Associates really earned their money yesterday, as they were successfulin their campaign to strip away the rights of Maine’s same-sex couples to marry,” one blogger, Eve Batey, wrote on the day after the Maine vote. “Stop shyly hiding behind a P.O. box, come out and take a bow!” Mr. Schubert said that his company and his clients write the advertisements, and that Mr. Criswell “executes them as we have scripted and directed.” “He does not do the creative and decide what is in the ads — we do,” Mr. Schubert said. Mr. Criswell did not return phone calls.

The company is not the only one involved in the Maine campaign that has kept its involvement quiet. Campaign disclosure documents show payments of nearly $150,000 to a company, Public Policy Strategies, doing business out of a mailbox in Stateline, Nev., on the California border. A corporate filing for Public Policy Strategies in Nevada shows no officers listed for the company except at a rented office in Zurich. Calls to that office were answered by an answering machine, and messages were not returned. Mr. Schubert said Public Policy Strategies was an “East Coast pollster” that wanted to keep its identity secret because companies had been subject to harassment and boycott threats from gay rights advocates for working against same-sex marriage. “I’m not going to blow their cover,” Mr. Schubert said.

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