The Man Behind Proposition 8
Among the local ballot measures to be decided on Election Day, CaliforniaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Proposition 8 is perhaps the most fiercely contested. Backers of the proposition to ban same-sex marriage in the state cast their campaign in apocalyptic terms. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,Ã¢â‚¬Â born-again Watergate felon and Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Chuck Colson told the New York Times. Tony Perkins, the president of the Christian rightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most powerful Beltway lobbying outfit, Family Research Council, echoed ColsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s language. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more important than the presidential election,Ã¢â‚¬Â Perkins said of Prop 8. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We will not survive [as a nation] if we lose the institution of marriage.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The campaign for Prop 8 has reaped massive funding from conservative backers across the country. Much of it comes from prominent donors like the Utah-based Church of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic conservative group, Knights of Columbus. Prop 8 has also received a boost from Elsa Broekhuizen, the widow of Michigan-based Christian backer Edgard Prince and the mother of Erik Prince, founder of the controversial mercenary firm, Blackwater.
While the Church of Latter Day SaintsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ public role in Prop 8 has engendered a growing backlash from its more liberal members, and BroekhuizenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s involvement attracted some media attention, the extreme politics of Prop 8Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s third largest private donor, Howard F. Ahmanson, reclusive heir to a banking fortune, have passed almost completely below the mediaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s radar. Ahmanson has donated $900,000 to the passage of Prop 8 so far.
I first met Ahmanson in 2004, when he and his wife, Roberta, agreed to an interview request for an article I was writing for Salon. Their exchanges with me marked the first time since 1984 that Howard had agreed to make contact with a journalist, and the first time since 1992 for Roberta. Howard agreed to answer questions only by email because, according to Roberta, his TouretteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Syndrome made chatting on the phone with a stranger nearly impossible. He functions Ã¢â‚¬Å“like a slow modem,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Her dual role as her husbandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s spokesperson and nurse quickly became apparent.