Frank Schubert and Chris Plante are veteran anti-Gay campaigners
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Like gunslingers riding into town in a 1950s Western, NOM operatives Frank Schubert and Chris Plante have arrived in Washington to run the campaign against marriage equality.
Schubert will be campaign manager for Preserve Marriage Washington - the statewide anti-equality coalition - and Plante is his deputy. Both men have long, and so far mostly successful, histories as enemies of LGBT rights.
Schubert managed the Prop 8 campaign to repeal same-sex marriage in California in 2008, then ran a similar campaign in Maine in 2009. This year, Schubert worked to pass North Carolina's constitutional amendment restricting marriage rights to opposite-sex couples.
He is now political director of NOM (the National Organization for Marriage), and the anti-equality campaign manager in all four states where equal marriage rights are on the ballot - Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota.
Plante has an equally despicable past, if a slightly less successful one. As executive director of NOM Rhode Island, he led last year's drive to block a marriage equality bill in the Rhode Island state legislature. Ultimately, lawmakers passed a civil unions bill instead.
Plante went on to lead the unsuccessful campaign to repeal New Hampshire's marriage law and worked to put an anti-marriage constitutional amendment on the November ballot in Minnesota.
THE CHALLENGE FROM NOM
Josh Friedes, now spokesperson for Equal Rights Washington, was the campaign manager for 2009's successful Approve Referendum 71 campaign to save the state's domestic partnership law from a similar challenge. Friedes told SGN that he thinks the situation three years later is much different.
'We did not face a full frontal assault from NOM [in 2009],' Friedes observed. 'If people think that because we won R-71 in 2009 we will win R-74, that's a mistake. We face a very different opponent this time.'
'The anti-Gay movement in this state has historically been disorganized, subject to infighting, and not fully engaged,' Friedes continued. 'And some of the people who were against us then have moved and are now supporters of equality.
'What we see now is the importation of a large out-of-state anti-Gay movement that knows how to parachute in organizers and run campaigns. NOM is the dominant player this time.'
Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, said his group is aware of the threat from NOM and is ready to take them on.
'NOM has been all-in since day one of this campaign,' Silk told SGN.
'They had national staff on the ground during the legislative battle. & They have targeted Washington and are prepared to run the same campaign of fear and confusion they have perpetrated in other states.
'The good news is that we have studied their playbook, and we are ready to hit back.'
Asked if the Approve R-74 campaign's recent $5 million media buy was part of 'hitting back,' Silk answered, 'Correct.'
'We know they are getting ready to dump four to six million dollars on television,' he explained. 'And we are prepared to stand toe-to-toe with them.'
Friedes added that equality supporters should contribute both volunteer time and money to the campaign, and activate their social networks to Approve Referendum 74.
FRANK SCHUBERT: PULLING THE STRINGS
Schubert is no stranger to the task of molding public opinion. Until 2008, he was a well-paid media consultant helping corporate clients in the tobacco, timber, and pharmaceutical industries improve their public image.
Schubert got his initial experience in politics running campaigns on behalf of his corporate clients. In California and Oregon, he led efforts to strike down tobacco tax increases by sowing public doubts about how the money would be spent.
Then he landed the job of running the Prop 8 campaign to repeal marriage equality in California. By his own account, he got religion during the campaign and began to believe he had a personal 'mission' to defeat equal marriage laws all over the country.
Looking back on the Prop 8 campaign, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, he began 'really reflecting what I had been through. Was this an accident? That here I am, a political consultant who happens to believe in the cause, on the scene at the very moment that this debate is occurring.'
Convinced that God had commissioned him to turn back same-sex marriage, Schubert then went to work for Stand for Marriage Maine, trying to repeal that state's new marriage law.
According to Matt McTighe, Mainers United for Marriage campaign manager, Schubert 'came in toward the end [of the 2009 campaign], pulling strings behind the scenes.'
'It's always NOM,' McTighe told SGN. 'NOM hires Schubert and his group, and they filter the talking points. They tell people what to say and what to do.'
According to McTighe, Schubert likes to avoid the limelight, preferring to let local groups take center stage.
'He acts as the campaign manager from afar,' McTighe explained. 'He will partner with groups on the ground - he'll pick one or two groups to work with. In 2009 was the Catholic diocese [of Portland, Maine].'
Now the Catholic Church is backing away from NOM, McTighe says, in part because of a lawsuit seeking to force NOM to disclose its donors.
'The NOM money probably came from the Knights of Columbus and from the Mormon Church,' McTighe continued, 'but that's all speculation based on past campaigns. We don't really care who their donors are - we just want to make them play by the rules.'
'THINK OF THE CHILDREN!'
Schubert's tactics in the Prop 8 campaign 'were the exact same tactics that were used in Maine, the same ones used in North Carolina, are being used in Minnesota, and will no doubt be used in all the other states as well,' observed Joe Fox, co-producer of Question One, a documentary about the 2009 repeal of Maine's marriage equality law.
Schubert's tactics are dependent on a central message, always stressing that 'children will pay a severe price' if Gay and Lesbian couples are allowed to have families.
After the 2009 Maine campaign, Schubert realized that corporate clients in nationwide markets regarded his newfound anti-Gay views as a public relations liability. He left his firm, Schubert Flint Public Affairs, and started a new company, Mission Public Affairs, devoted exclusively to anti-Gay work.
Although Schubert claims that his new company is 'far less lucrative' than the $2.5 million a year he billed at Schubert Flint, he has made good money off of his campaigns against equal marriage rights.
According to state PDC documents, he has already billed Preserve Marriage Washington more than $30,000 though the end of July. He has also received some $45,273 for his work this year in Maine, and $127,408 from Minnesota. He reportedly earned $958,594 for his successful North Carolina campaign in May.
Ironically, Schubert's sister is a married Lesbian with two children.
'I love my sister deeply and I love her children,' he told the Chronicle. 'That doesn't require me to accept that marriages should be redefined because my sister is in a Gay relationship with two kids.'
CHRIS PLANTE: NOM'S PUBLIC FACE
Unlike Schubert, Chris Plante is very much an in-front-of-the-scenes operator.
'He's a mouthpiece, not an organizer,' said Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island.
Sullivan knows from experience. Plante got his start as executive director of NOM Rhode Island, where he successfully bullied state legislators into blocking a marriage equality bill that most of them had committed to vote for. After his win there, NOM sent him to other states.
'[Plante] started here and then became [NOM's] regional guy,' Sullivan explained. 'He's been in New Hampshire, he's been in Minnesota, he goes wherever.'
According to Sullivan, Plante is a media figure, good at delivering a message, but not a skilled organizer. As a result, he has not left a lasting impression on Rhode Island politics.
'We haven't seen much of a grassroots network. I don't think he has much of a pedigree in organizing or strategy,' Sullivan said about Plante. 'They drop him into a state. He doesn't really do much to grow grassroots support.'
Echoing Schubert's talking points, Plante once said that same-sex marriages would 'turn children into little teacup dogs - it's an accessory to put in my purse &'
Unlike Schubert, who is billing Preserve Marriage Washington for his services, Plante is being paid directly by NOM. PDC reports show Preserve Marriage reporting $3,600 for Plante's 'consulting services' and expenses as in-kind contributions from NOM.
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