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MERI director says he's surprised by arrival of new gay marriage advocacy group

Ray Sullivan, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island - the leading advocate for gay marriage in the state - says he knows nothing about a new group, People for Rhode Island's Future, wading into state legislative races this week.

The group - its existence was first reported by WPRI's Ted Nesi - is mostly funded by Colorado technology magnate Tim Gill and Boston literary agent Esmond Harmsworth.

Gill, a reclusive figure, is the leading figure in a nationwide network of donors who have targeted low-cost, state-level races in a bid to shape fights on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues. His signature effort was Fight Back New York, which helped knock out three state senators and pave the way for gay marriage in that state.

That campaign was tough-minded. Mailers focused not on same-sex nuptials, but on any issue that might achieve the desired outcome. One asked, “Why would Sen. Bill Stachowski vote against mammograms for women?" Another targeted an already vulnerable Queens Democrat, Hiram Monserrate, who had been accused of domestic violence. The visual: a New York Post headline, “Trial Video Shows Senator Pulling Bloody, Screaming Gal,” splashed across a series of still images from the video.

If People for Rhode Island's Future takes a similar tack, here, it would mark a departure from MERI's strategy, which is to focus squarely on the issue of same-sex marriage - driving those who support gay nuptials, in critical districts, to the polls.

Sullivan says MERI, which has so far struggled to raise significant sums, will keep focused on its plan.

This is not the first time Gill and Harmsworth have dabbled in Rhode Island politics. They've made donations, in the past, to incumbents who strongly support gay nuptials. But the new effort - if relatively low-cost - seems more targeted and sophisticated.

The group is focusing on the state senate which, as I have written, is the real center of the gay marriage fight. And it is supporting not the obvious incumbents, but challengers in a handful of key races: David Gorman, Gene Dyzlewski, Lewis Pryeor, Adam Satchell, Laura Pisaturo, and Robert DaSilva.

People for Rhode Island's Future reports, in its hand-scrawled filing, an $18,000 payment to All the Answers, a direct-mail firm in Warwick, and an $8,500 payment to Winning Connections, a Washington-based phone bank operation that worked to elect Democrats in Wisconsin's high-profile recall election.


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