"Gays are the next Jews of fundraising," declared Rahm Emanuel, who is now an Obama confidant, while hustling for donors for Bill Clinton back in 1992.
In that light, Obama's endorsement of gay marriage was at least the equivalent of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- a symbolic and controversial action that excites a donor base.
Jon Cooper, a gay Long Island legislator and an Obama fundraiser, told the Capital, a New York news site, that Obama's "expressing his personal support for same-sex marriage is going to make my life immeasurably easier raising money from LGBT donors and progressives in general."
One unnamed gay Obama bundler told BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller that after Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage, gay Obama fundraisers "across the country are raising more money than we've ever raised. And you'll see a lot more of that now."
This confirms what an adviser to Democratic fundraiser Jon Lewis told the Washington Post before Obama's Wednesday announcement: "A number of gay and progressive donors, unsolicited, have indicated to us that they aren't considering requests to donate to the Obama SuperPAC because of the president's refusal to the sign" an executive order making homosexuality a protected class in federal hiring rules. "And those are high-dollar asks, some in the seven digits. We have heard from at least half a dozen major gay and progressive donors that they stand united with us."
About 20 percent of Obama's bundlers -- volunteer fundraisers -- are gay, according to media reports, with many of them being gay rights activists. For example, Sally Susman has raised at least $500,000 for Obama's re-election. Millionaire banking mogul Eugene Sepulveda is another gay half-million-dollar Obama bundler. Rufus Gifford is the finance director for Obama's re-election campaign, and Andrew Tobias is treasurer of the Democratic National Committee -- and both are gay.
The Obama-friendly stretch of K Street is full of gay activists, too. Look at the lobbyists shaping Obamacare, for instance. Pfizer, where lesbian Obama bundler Susman runs the lobbying shop, supported the bill. Steve Elmendorf, a leading gay bundler for House and Senate Democrats, was hired by the top drug lobby to craft and help pass the health care package. Former Barney Frank staffer Robert Raben, also gay, runs a lobbying firm. The Raben Group has had such Obama-friendly clients as Google, General Electric and the National Education Association. Raben and his firm are Democratic bundlers.
Obama's support for gay marriage wasn't a money-raising ploy. It's commonly believed he has long supported gay marriage but stated otherwise until last week. That said, Obama's recent emphasis on the issue should be understood partly in the context of fundraising -- especially since the Obama campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out emails last week using Obama's declaration as a fundraising hook.
Just as politicians use symbolic gestures to drive the voter base to the polls, they also use them to drive the donor base to their checkbooks. Compare Obama's gay-marriage money bomb to Karl Rove's 2004 strategy of trying to turn out the GOP base with initiatives opposing gay marriage. You begin to see the pattern: Republicans exploit social issues mostly for votes, while Democrats exploit them mostly for money.
Look at abortion. Republicans regularly generate pro-life votes but not much pro-life money. Since the 2004 election, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, pro-life groups have spent $4.5 million on federal elections. Pro-choice groups, as defined by CRP, have spent $10.3 million -- and that doesn't even count the biggest pro-choice organization, EMILY's List, which has spent nearly $15 million in that stretch.
The Democratic fundraising network is as enmeshed with the pro-choice movement as it is with the gay rights movement -- Planned Parenthood and EMILY's list officials are regional Obama fundraising chairs and major super-PAC donors.
In elite Democratic circles, social issues are social, in a very personal sense. Not only do top donors share political and cultural attitudes, they often have close ties to each other and to White House officials -- and sometimes to Obama himself. Abortion and gay marriage are such highly charged issues that they define friendships. By contrast, an objection to foreign or economic policy is merely a difference of opinion.
Obama patched up some fraying friendships last week. And it paid off big.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.