By Lisa Keen
R. Clarke Cooper, head of the national Log Cabin Republicans group, said Mitt Romney won an “informal vote” among the leaders of Florida’s three chapters on the Saturday before Tuesday’s primary.
And voters in Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday gave Romney a victory, too, albeit a less resounding one than did Log Cabin Florida leaders. In the Log Cabin Florida straw poll, Romney won 24 votes to Newt Gingrich’s 6, Ron Paul’s 4, and Rick Santorum’s zero.
Among voters participating in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Florida, Romney won 46 percent of the vote, compared to Gingrich’s 32 percent, Santorum’s 13 percent, and Paul’s 7 percent.
A week out from the January 31 primary, Log Cabin leaders in Florida suggested their members were pretty evenly split between Romney and Gingrich.
But in trying to catch up with Romney in the polls in the days leading up to the Florida voting, Gingrich began hammering Romney for being “pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, and pro-gay rights.” He described the former governor as a “Massachusetts moderate – a liberal by Republican terms.”
Romney had acknowledged to one debate audience that, as governor of Massachusetts, he had a policy of not discriminating based on sexual orientation but he opposed same-sex marriage.
Cooper said he thought Gingrich’s attempt to use Romney’s support for “gay rights” against him probably back-fired.
“Any candidate attempting to use gays as a dividing rod in the 2012 election is bucking public trends of inclusion and will find themselves unable to win a general election,” said Cooper. “Politics is about addition and the long term gains are made through building coalitions, not employing wedge issues.” The Log Cabin national board has not yet made an endorsement in the primary.
While “gay rights,” abortion, gun control, and taxes are very significant to many voters, there is evidence to suggest that voters are giving heavier consideration to other issues. The CNN exit polls Tuesday night showed the majority (62 percent) of voters surveyed identified the economy as their most important issue, followed by the budget deficit (23 percent), abortion (7 percent), and illegal immigration (3 percent).
CNN did not ask exit poll participants to identify their sexual orientation, but it did ask about marital status. Eleven percent of voters were unmarried men; 50 percent voted for Romney, 24 percent for Gingrich, 13 percent for Paul, 11 percent for Santorum, and 2 percent for others. Fifteen percent of voters were unmarried women; 47 percent voted for Romney, 28 percent for Gingrich, 11 percent for Santorum, 7 percent for Paul, and 7 percent for others.
Romney tax returns include anti-gay group donations
The Republican primary campaign in Florida made considerable issue of how much the contenders have paid in taxes. A week prior to the Florida vote, when Romney released his tax returns for 2010 and 2011, there was a flood of attention over the discovery that the multi-millionaire is paying only about 15 percent in taxes on his enormous earnings.
But there was something specific for the LGBT community to scrutinize, too. It wasn’t on Romney’s regular returns, but rather on the returns he files for his private Tyler Charitable Foundation.
Romney pours a million or so dollars into the foundation every year and the foundation contributes the money to other charitable groups, including ones to help kids, to fight certain diseases, to help a homeless shelter for veterans, the United Way and the Red Cross. But CNN found, and other returns this reporter discovered online, show the Romney foundation also gave money to such virulently anti-gay groups as the Massachusetts Family Institute, the Salvation Army, and the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.
“The biggest part of this money,” said CNN reporter Tom Foreman, has been the Mormon Church. Foreman didn’t mention it, but the Mormon Church was heavily involved in funding the successful campaign to pass California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.
According to a report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Romney family made its largest annual donation to the Mormon Church – $1.8 million – in 2008. That is the same year the Mormon Church gave heavy financial support to Proposition 8.
The Huffington Post reported last week that the family foundation has also given to the Boy Scouts of America, and gave $10,000 to the Massachusetts Family Institute.
Asked whether he thinks Romney’s contributions to groups like the Massachusetts Family Institute, which has opposed nearly every effort to secure equal rights for gays in Massachusetts, would push away gay voters who might otherwise support Romney, Cooper said Log Cabin members are “not single issue voters.”
“Like most Republicans,” he said, “they take a macro view of each candidate running for office. Domestic bread and butter issues are showing to be prime interest in the 2012 election cycle for voters, including the LGBT community.”
The 2010 returns for the Gingrich Foundation showed modest contributions to the Catholic Church, some small historic associations, a couple of disease research groups, and some small colleges. His personal returns show just $9,000 to the Catholic Church and other “miscellaneous” contributions.
Both the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church have contributed heavily to political efforts to ban same-sex marriage, and neither Romney nor Gingrich has been supportive of full equality for LGBT citizens. But Romney’s funding presented the most trouble for his prospects of securing 27 percent of the LGB vote in the general election this year, as Republican nominee John McCain did in 2008.
“The donations by the Romney family to these far right groups,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, “only proves the point that Mitt Romney has had every position imaginable on LGBT issues, from first saying he’d be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy to funding the groups that want to turn back the clock on marriage in Massachusetts.”