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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Explained: The Clusterfuck That Lost the Proposition 8 Campaign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 6:30 PM

click to enlarge lesbian_wedding_cake_topper.jpg
During testimony, filings, and deliberations in the Proposition 8 trial, an unasked question reverberated through the federal courthouse in San Francisco: Why, exactly, are we here?

A step outside into the reality of still separate and unequal California provided an answer: An inept anti-Prop. 8 campaign fumbled what should have been a winning campaign. This quote from Rolling Stone was representative of anecdotes, quotations, blog posts and other accounts describing what a rotten organization the umbrella group Equality California oversaw: "The gay rights groups that tried to stop (Proposition 8) ran a lousy campaign."

There hadn't been an engaging roadmap to this sad business, however, until Monday, when  Equality California -- set up in 2005 as an umbrella organization for efforts to confront an anticipated anti-gay marriage initiative campaign -- filed a legal brief in response to a request for campaign strategy records. To read Equality California's Geoff Kors describe in the filing the group's strategy formulation, it's possible to imagine a gymnasium full of people engaged in an unrefereed shouting match, in lieu of actually playing a basketball game.

Postgame analysts said the anti Prop. 8 campaign excluded leaders of top gay lesbian groups, thus depriving the campaign of door-knockers. Meanwhile the campaign's phone-banking effort didn't ramp up until the month before the vote.

According to Monday's filing, however, what the campaign didn't have in foot soldiers and phone volunteers, it made up for in consultants. The anti Prop. 8 campaign seems to have been a full-employment act for West Coast political hacks.

Equality for All paid numerous consultants to provide advice and technical support
for a wide array of campaign activity. These consultants included: political consultants who provided overall advice on campaign strategy; political consultants who provided advice about specific campaign strategies (such as reaching out to certain targeted voter groups); messaging consultants in a variety of media; messaging consultants who conducted polling and focus group research; and technology consultants who, for example, created and managed Equality for All's website and social media presence.
According to Rolling Stone, the campaign neglected to harvest political bounty even as it grew up beneath Prop. 8 opponents' toes.

Until the final days, the campaign failed to take advantage of

the backing of every major newspaper in the state, as well as that

of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former President Bill Clinton and

future President Barack Obama. In one bizarre episode, an outside

consultant was forced to "jackhammer" the campaign leadership

simply to convince them to make use of a robo-call from Bill


Judging from the multi-headed hydra-style decision-making process described in Monday's filing, it's a wonder the consultants managed to push even that decision through. Equality California acted simultaneously as a campaign organization and as a collection of independent groups each doing its own thing.

Per Monday's filing:

The member organizations of Equality for All participated both in the campaign
activities of the umbrella organization, and in campaign activities on behalf of their own
organizations. For example, EQCA was a member of the Equality for All campaign, but EQCA also worked to defeat Proposition 8 in its own capacity -- using its own website to argue against Proposition 8, sending emails to its own list regarding Proposition 8, and holding its own fundraisers to defeat Proposition 8. It is my understanding and belief that the many of the other member organizations of Equality for All worked within and independently of the Equality for All campaign in the same way EQCA did.

Equality California didn't so much lead a campaign as participate part-time in an extended social club of groups who didn't particularly like

the ballot initiative, the filing suggests.

The entire thing's here:

prop 8.pdf

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Matt Smith


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