Our friend Ned Flaherty has written a 7-part investigative series on what’s going on with marriage equality in Florida, and has graciously allowed us to repost it here. Below is part 3. You can find all 7 parts of the series at the New Civil Rights Movement.
Part 3: Counts for Workers, Signatures and Dollars
Republican political operatives are about to give anti-LGBT hate groups just what they crave: a lopsided defeat for gay rights in the deepest South. NCRM’s 7-part investigative series reveals how progress toward marriage equality in other states is threatened by current events in Florida.
In summary, then, most of Equal Marriage Florida’s work either never started, or else started but remains a secret. Florida law requires that donors who pay for campaigns must be publicly identified, but EMFL’s donors and donations — if there are any — have never been reported.
Treasurer Vanessa Brito reports different campaign results to different people. For example, she claimed that EMFL collected donations of at least $20,000, and spent at least $20,000. In correspondence for this article, she wrote, “Heather [Gray] and I have invested close to $20,000 of our own money — a list she is working on for you and for the latest reporting period as well.” But in the campaign finance reports required by state law, Treasurer Brito wrote to Florida officials that EMFL had received no donations, loans, or in-kind contributions, had spent no funds, and had no financial transactions.
Brito did not report to the state when her own $20,000 was contributed, or when or how it got spent. She also did not report the commissions paid to fund-raisers hired via Facebook. She also did not report the extensive in-kind contributions from the group’s Sponsor, Our America Initiative, from June through December. On New Year’s Eve, OAI spokesman Joe Hunter confirmed the 2013 support, saying, “OAI provided in-kind contributions, such as Web site set-up, social media expertise, and quite a bit of work, primarily at the start. We talk with EMFL, and are actively supporting them, and doing whatever they need us to do.”
On 21 August 2013, EMFL told South Florida Gay News that the collected signatures total was 48,349. On 13 September, EMFL wrote to a Huffington Post staff reporter that the total had exceeded 120,000. On 2 November, EMFL announced that the total was “over 200,000.” But after being asked multiple times to confirm how many signatures are collected vs. outstanding, EMFL Media Coordinator Heather Gray denied the accuracy of EMFL’s previously published figures, and also declined to provide any updates.
The mystery about how many workers, signatures, and dollars the campaign has taken in deepened on 18 December, when EMFL posted to its Facebook account an advertisement for a “second set of paid petition circulators.” Hiring two teams of contract workers would require EMFL to raise funds and to spend funds, but EMFL’s reports to state officials show zero dollars raised, and zero dollars spent. The Washington state campaign was victorious only after exerting over 30,000 hours of labor, but in Florida, no one from EMFL would confirm the hours worked so far, or the hours planned.
In an e-mail message for this article, Brito wrote on 17 December that her team members “have worked tirelessly since June. You will have the information you requested this week.” But no figures for staffing, signatures, events, or fund-raising ever arrived, and none of EMFL’s available leaders ever gave the long-promised phone interview.
Despite the secrecy, three stark facts blaze brightly.
* EMFL’s Web site still promises to collect 1,000,000 signatures by 1 February 2014, but the lack of people, funds, and progress makes reaching that goal impossible.
* MYami Marketing is the Republican political campaign firm that Vanessa Brito founded in 2009, where Heather Gray is Deputy Director, but its Web site, Facebook, and MySpace pages are all empty, both of its published phone numbers are disconnected, and it appears to be out of business. Owner Vanessa Brito claims that it is a “full-service” marketing firm which is circulating petitions, verifying signatures, and conducting surveys, but MYami Marketing appears to have no Web presence, no working phones, and didn’t answer repeated e-mail inquiries for this article.
* EMFL filed official reports at the Florida Division of Elections showing zero funds raised, zero funds spent, and zero transactions.
Those three facts — scant progress, unresponsive leaders, no transactions — intensify the early fear of some LGBT activists that this Political Action Committee might be just a false front, a staged theatric. The lack of verifiable progress, unavailability of leaders, and absence of funding also make it more likely that EMFL was created not to win marriage equality, but to defeat it, to ruin activist morale, and to burn up LGBT dollars so they can’t be spent anywhere else.
Tomorrow in this investigative series: Part 4 – Party Plans
Ned Flaherty is an LGBT activist currently focused on civil marriage equality, and previously on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts, where America’s first same-gender civil marriages began in 2004. He suffered a childhood exposure to Roman Catholic pomp and circumstance, but the spell never took, and he recovered.
Here’s the list of the 7-part series:
Part 1 – LGBT Groups Oppose Equal Marriage Campaign
Part 2 – Leaders Retreat
Part 3 – Counts for Workers, Signatures, and Dollars
Part 4 – Party Plans
Part 5 – Haters Wait With Bated Breath
Part 6 – Promising the Impossible
Part 7 – Prognosis