Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

A look back at the money in the fight over Prop 8

Gay rights supporters pose in front of the Supreme Court after Wednesday's decision on DOMA and Proposition 8.
Gay rights supporters pose in front of the Supreme Court after Wednesday's decision on DOMA and Proposition 8.
Kitty Felde/ KPCC

As lawyers and activists analyze the Supreme Court’s ruling on California’s Proposition 8, it's worth recalling that the original 2008 campaign was an expensive battle, with more than $80 million spent by both sides combined. A combination of religion, politics, and activism motivated most of the money.

MapLight, the nonpartisan group that studies money’s influence on politics, took another look at data from California’s Secretary of State to see who the largest donors were in the effort to ban gay marriage in California.

The number one contributor to the “yes” on Prop 8 campaign was the Catholic men’s group, the Knights of  Columbus, followed by Fieldstead & Company, which manages the assets of Home Savings heir Howard Ahmanson, Jr. “as part of a Christian worldview.” The Knights of Columbus and Fieldstead each about $1.4 million.

The top two contributors to the “no” campaign were the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center and the California Teachers Association. Each gave more than $1.3 million. David Sanchez, head of the union that represents 340,000 teachers, told The Los Angeles Times: “A lot of our members would like to marry.”

But there were also several private donors on both sides with deep pockets.

Claire Reiss is a philanthropist and a commercial developer of biotech properties. She’s also a board member of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which defines its mission to “defend religious freedom by providing protective legal services at the trial level to persons whose religious liberty and free-speech rights have been attacked.” She gave a million dollars to the “yes”  campaign.

Alan Ashton is a co-founder of WordPerfect and a practicing Mormon who writes he’s “indebted to the gospel of Jesus Christ for the happiness and joy in my life. “ Ashton contributed to the get-out-the-evangelical-vote effort for George W. Bush, as well  as giving a million dollars to help pass Proposition 8.

On the “no” side, the top two individual donors were David Bohnett and Robert W.  Wilson. Each gave $1.2 million to try to defeat Prop 8.

Bohnett is a tech millionaire, the founder of He chairs the L.A. Philharmonic Association and is a trustee for The Foundation for AIDS Research and the L.A. County Museum of Art. His foundation supports several LGBT-related causes.

Wilson, a New Yorker who's identified by the good government group California Watch as one of the state's top political  donors,  made his money in investments. But Wilson is harder to put into a rigid philosophical category. He's supported an eclectic list of causes: he’s given millions to Catholic schools and to the Environmental Defense Fund, and he backed John McCain’s 2008 campaign for president.

Of course,  it should be pointed out that Ted Olson and David Boies, who represented  the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case challenging Proposition 8, were on opposite legal sides in the 2000 Presidential race that ended up at the High Court. Olson represented George Bush and Boies represented Al Gore.