The Gay Mogul Changing U.S. Politics

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Gill Foundation

Philanthropist Tim Gill

In a new list of the most powerful gay men and women in the country, Out magazine has lots of household names at the top: David Geffen, Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, Barney Frank and a couple of allegedly closeted stars. But high among the rich and famous is Tim Gill. Huh? Who is he, and why is he ranked as the fourth most powerful gay person in the country?

Gill is a 53-year-old snowboarder, retired computer programmer and multimillionaire. He made his fortune (estimated at $425 million by Forbes magazine) by founding Quark, the pioneering desktop publishing software company. After selling the firm, he started the Gill Foundation, which has invested $110 million nationwide in gay causes over the past decade. The Gill Action Fund threw $15 million into a dozen states during the 2006 midterm elections, targeting 70 politicians regarded as unhelpful to gay causes: 50 went down. And the fund is helping transform the political face of Colorado.

In 2004, Gill's money helped send Democrat Ken Salazar to the U.S. Senate. His dollars have also helped put Democrats in control of the Colorado legislature for the first time in four decades. That could have an impact on the fate of the Two Parent Adoption Bill, currently being considered by Colorado legislators, which would allow gay couples to adopt. The proposal was rejected twice before, but that was before the statehouse switched from red to blue. Now Colorado Democrats have passed the bill in the House and expect it to pass the Senate.

Impatient with the lack of gay rights progress this past decade, Gill is pushing hard to end injustice and inequality by the end of the next decade. And recognizing that most anti-gay initiatives are born at the state level, Gill has developed a national political strategy based on successes in Colorado. "They've taken an in-state model and applied it to the entire country," says Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli. "Gill [and his people are] incredibly strategic. They simply don't waste money. They put their funding where they can take control of legislatures." Ciruli adds, "People were unaware of what was going on for quite awhile, but now I think everybody knows that they have really changed the direction of the state. I'm not sure that everyone really understands how potent [Gill] is, but he now has to be the number one gay rights advocate in the country in terms of funding and strategy. They're taking significant contributions and putting them brilliantly in legislative environments where a few seats changing will change the entire control of a state."

The money is not always filtered through political parties, although much goes to Democrats. Almost all goes to tax-exempt 527 political organizations. Says Dr. John Straayer, a Colorado State University political scientist, "You see checks written, big checks, sometimes six-figure checks with Gill's name. They're pretty strategic in terms of targeting legislative races and then unleashing torrents of mail into those districts." But no announcements of impending political targets are made; the word "stealth" occurs frequently in discussions of Gill and his associates.

While Gill has recently opened a Washington office, his representatives, in keeping with past strategy, insist that no individual political targets have yet been chosen for 2008. "We're in the process of looking at the new political landscape and deciding where the most strategic opportunities are," says Gill Action Fund director Patrick Guerriero."There will be shifts in where the money is spent. We're watching legislative activity, we're watching where there's heated cultural debate."

Another formidable element of Gill's power is his network of deep-pocketed allies in the mountain states. An hour south of Laramie, in Ft. Collins, lives medical equipment heiress Pat Stryker, who is, along with Gill, known in local political circles as one of "The Four Millionaires." (Actually Stryker is a billionaire; her brother Jon is gay and both give generously to gay causes.) The two other members of the quartet are entrepreneur Jared Polis, who lives in Boulder, and Denver's Rutt Bridges, who made his fortune in petroleum exploration and runs the Bighorn Center for Public Policy.

"What you have are extremely wealthy individuals who aren't personally interested in running for anything but have this tremendous passion." says Ciruli. "Like George Soros, Tim Gill is actually changing the political landscape."