Referendum Committees

Groups that weighed in on the 2006 fall referendum questions

Posted: September 19, 2006
Updated: October 31, 2007

The 2006 General Election featured two statewide referendums – both of which were overwhelmingly approved by Wisconsin voters.

One changed the Wisconsin Constitution to prohibit gay marriage and civil unions. It was approved by voters 59 percent to 41 percent.

The other was an advisory referendum that asked whether Wisconsin should reinstate the death penalty for first-degree murder convictions based on DNA evidence. It was approved by voters 55 percent to 45 percent. However no formal legislative proposal has been introduced to reinstate the death penalty.

Fair Wisconsin

This is the referendum group of Action Wisconsin in Madison and Center Advocates in Milwaukee. It was formed to raise money and campaign against the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin. Voters approved the amendment on November 7.

Campaign finance laws require the committee to publicly report its fundraising and expenditures because its message tells people to vote against the amendment. Their opponents, the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Coalition for Traditional Marriage, claim they can keep secret their contributors and expenditures because their message is educational and does not tell people how to vote.

Fair Wisconsin raised and spent $4.3 million in 2006. Its largest contributor was Action Wisconsin at $809,989; followed by $325,000 from the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largst teachers’ union; $300,000 from Kalazmazoo, Michigan architect Jon Stryker and $250,000 from Schlitz Brewing heiress Lynde Uihlein.

In October, the group launched two ads. One featured a Wisconsin farmer telling listeners that he was raised to believe marriage was between a man and a woman, but that the proposed amendment goes too far, threatening the benefits and financial security of both straight and gay unmarried couples. “They’re not hurting me, why should I hurt them?” he asks.

The other October ad shows a pastoral setting in which a narrator tells listeners the constitution already bans gay marriage in Wisconsin, and that nothing changes if the amendment does not pass. “Voting ‘no’ means everything stays the same. No special rights. No government intervention,” the ad said.

In September, the group launched a poignant television ad featuring a woman named Lynn who had lost her female partner to cancer. She told listeners that the proposed amendment threatened medical decisions she made on her partner’s behalf, as well as the financial security of their small daughter.

The group’s first three advertisement in July and August told listeners the proposed amendment threatens benefits, such as health care and pensions, of gay and unmarried straight couples. Two of the ads featured people of all ages making comments like, “It’s just being sold as a ban on gay marriage, but there’s a lot more to it,” one woman says.

Family Research Institute of Wisconsin

This group was founded in 1986 to promote religious values in Wisconsin. “Although not a perfect correlation, FRI sees itself as similar to the Old Testament prophets – declaring the truth to the culture,” according to its mission statement.

In addition to its support for the so-called marriage protection amendment, the group produces newsletters, DVDs, a weekly radio commentary aired on 25 state Christian radio stations, produces voter guides about candidates’ views and votes on issues and lobbies on legislative proposals. It opposes abortion, gambling, human cloning and physician-assisted suicide. It supports Milwaukee’s parental school choice program, a law to exempt religious groups from discrimination laws and helped defeat an attempt to require churches to pay property taxes.

The group’s campaign arm, Vote Yes for Marriage, raised $634,583 and spent $634,384 in 2006, yet the true amounts raised and spent by pro-amendment forces remain unknown. Vote Yes for Marriage had to report its contributions and spending because it explicitly campaigned for the amendment, but the Family Research Institute and the Coalition for Traditional Marriage claim that, as their efforts for the amendment were "educational" and did not explicitly tell voters to vote yes or no, state campaign finance laws do not require them to disclose their donors or expenses.

The institute says it sent 4,000 DVDs entitled “The Battle for Marriage in Wisconsin” to churches last year. The video shows images of children playing, the American flag, loving couples and the Bible. A narrator says marriage is a biblical and moral institution for a man and a woman and it should not be altered by “activist judges, some government officials and a small but very vocal group of people.”

“Friends, imagine a Wisconsin where the definition of marriage is changed in any way. If this vast social experiment is allowed to succeed, what will happen to our churches and pastors? To our businesses? To our public schools? To our religious liberties? And most importantly, to our children, our very future?” Julaine Appling, the institute’s executive director, tells listeners.

The institute will not disclose how much it spent on the DVD but video production experts contacted by WDC said it cost between $16,700 and $20,800 to produce and replicate.

Focus on the Family

This Colorado Springs-based group founded in 1977 by James Dobson claims to be the largest socially conservative religious organization in the country. The group has spent more than $1 million since 2004 to successfully push amendments to ban gay marriage in Colorado, Texas, Kansas and other states.

The group allied with the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin in efforts to get voters to approve Wisconsin’s proposed gay marriage ban this November. It raised and sepnt $35,134 in 2006.

In August, Focus on the Family co-sponsored a daylong workshop in Milwaukee for clergy on homosexuality and the proposed amendment to ban gay marriage.

No Death Penalty Wisconsin

This group is a coalition of several unions and religious and social organizations that opposes reinstating the death penalty in Wisconsin. An advisory referendum was on the November 7 ballot asking voters whether this type of punishment should be an option for people convicted of first-degree murder based on DNA evidence.

Wisconsin Family Action Inc.

This group identifies itself as the lobbying tool of Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, which supports the so-called marriage protection amendment.

This group was not heard from until about 10 days before the November 7 vote on the proposed amendment. It contributed $81,411 in 2006 to the institute’s campaign committee, Vote Yes for Marriage, to help air more than $266,000 worth of phony issue ads in the Green Bay and Milwaukee television and radio markets from late October to Election Day. The contributions were reported on Vote Yes for Marriage’s October 30 preelection report.

Family Action also bankrolled a negative mailing against Democratic candidate Gordon Hintz who successfully ran for the hotly contested 54th Assembly District open seat in Oshkosh. The postcard pictures two men in tuxedoes and says Hintz opposes the amendment. “Tell Gordon Hintz that’s just wrong! Marriage is between one man and one woman.”

In a related development, the campaign treasurer for Hintz’s Republican opponent, Robin Makar, was so offended by Family Action’s mailing that she publicly announced October 30 she had quit GOP candidate Julie Pung Leschke’s campaign the week before because of the large amount of outside money and negative advertising influencing the race. “I saw that postcard and it was just a lie, ” Makar told the Oshkosh Northwestern.