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October 24th, 2012

Out-of-State Gay Activists Funnel Money to Gronstal, Wilhelm, and Sodders

By Craig Robinson

Nobody decries the use of out-of state special interest money more than the Iowa State Bar Association and supporters of gay marriage do.  Yet for years, gay activists from around the country have been contributing to the Iowa Democratic Party and Democrat legislators and candidates in an attempt to further the cause of gay marriage rights.

The practice began in 2006 when Tim Gill, a wealthy gay rights activists and technology mogul from Colorado, targeted Iowa State Representative Danny Carroll, a Republican and out-spoken social conservative.  According to the Atlantic, Gill’s goal was to, “Stop the Rick Santorums of tomorrow before they get started.”

Gill and a national network of gay rights donors were successful in defeating Carroll in 2006 and 2008.  While the Carroll campaign has long been over, the practice of out-of-state gay activists trying to influence the balance of power in the Iowa Legislature has continued.

Recent campaign disclosures submitted to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board show that the practice of giving to targeted candidates is alive and well.   Gay activists have focused their efforts by contributing to Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, and Sen. Steve Sodders.

Sodders is locked in a tight battle with Jane Jech in the Marshalltown area, while redistricting has tossed Republican incumbent Sen. Merlin Bartz into the same district with Wilhelm.

Wilhelm’s campaign finance disclosures make for a great case study in out-of-state gay activists attempting to influence local races.  Her most recent disclosure showed that 17 percent of donors who contributed to her campaign from mid-July to mid-October were out-of-state gay rights activists.

These activists include 37 individuals, who made a total of 40 contributions, which accounted for 38 percent of the $85,000 Wilhelm raised in the period.  If you add in a $10,000 contribution from the Justice for All PAC, a gay rights group, gay activists accounted for 50 percent of the money Wilhelm raised in the last reporting period.

The 37 gay activists who contributed to Wilhelm for the most part also donated to Sodders and Gronstal.  In total, these individuals contributed $106,220 in 2012 to Iowa Senate Democrats.  Some also contributed to the effort in 2011, and those contributions total an additional $17,850.

In the world of presidential and congressional fundraising, $125,000 might not seem like a lot, but in state legislative politics, $125,000 can be a difference maker.  In 2006 and 2008, gay activists wanted to defeat specific social conservatives and help Democrats win a majority in a chamber.  Now, with Republicans on the verge of gaining control of the Iowa Senate, these out-of-state gay rights activists are trying to re-elect incumbent Democrats in hopes of keeping control of the Senate.

Only time will tell if this money will allow Senate Democrats to keep control of the chamber.  Without taking the time to go line by line through every Senate Democrat’s disclosures, the total amount of money that out-of-state gay rights activist are funneling to Senate Democrats may be larger than the $125,000 discussed in this story.  Remember, this only covers the total donations from those specific 37 out-of-state donors who gave to Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm.  There are likely other similarly- minded donors contributing to other candidates, Senator Gronstal, or the Iowa Democratic Party.

Next time the Iowa State Bar Association or gay rights activists in Iowa bemoan the amount of out-of-state money being used in the anti-retention campaign, remind them that gay activists have been funneling money into Iowa for years.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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