Tuesday, April 25, 2006

DENVER — Colorado software millionaire and homosexual activist Tim Gill yesterday started an unprecedented advertising campaign aimed at promoting his domestic-partnership referendum, even though the initiative has yet to win a slot on November’s ballot.

The $1.5 million television buy, easily the most expensive in state history for a ballot initiative this early in the race, stunned political pros and worried the state’s traditional-marriage advocates, who have their own ballot measure in the works but a significantly smaller war chest.

The two ads, released yesterday by Coloradans for Fairness and Equality (CFE) — the action fund backed primarily by Mr. Gill — began running yesterday and are scheduled to air for the next seven weeks on broadcast and cable stations in every Colorado market.

“They have the money. That’s the key. They would only do this if they feel they can draw on nearly unlimited resources,” Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said. “In this state’s political history, this is entirely new territory.”

Rick Ridder, a CFE consultant, confirmed the campaign planned to spend $4 million to $5 million, although some estimates run much higher. He said the ads were aimed at introducing the public to the civil rights issues behind the domestic-partnership initiative.

“It’s beginning to set the stage for what domestic partnerships are and what benefits would accrue to same-sex couples,” Mr. Ridder said.

Mr. Ciruli said it’s a smart strategy.

“Why this is such a good idea is that there’s no clutter. There’s virtually no political advertising on the air now,” he said. “The single most important thing you can do in a campaign is to frame the issue early — that sets the stage for news reporting to a certain extent, but also for how the voters think about it.”

The first ad shows a young professional white man pacing outside a hospital door as a voice says, “You have a responsibility to take care of those you love, but what if you were denied that right?”

In the second spot, a baby wiggles as a voice explains that not all people are created equal. “Because some of us will come into this world without the legal rights to protect and support our future partner and children. … Why? Because some of us were born gay.”

Neither ad mentions the domestic-partnership referendum, which is awaiting final approval in the state legislature. The measure would allow same-sex couples to register with the state as domestic partners and receive many of the same benefits as married couples, including hospital and nursing-home visitation, shared health insurance coverage, and property and inheritance rights.

Carrie Gordon Earll, spokeswoman for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, called the ads “misleading,” saying that anyone can now take legal steps to give their partners the same rights as a husband or wife, such as naming them as medical agents.

“They’re trying to pass a law that’s much broader than hospital visitation,” Ms. Earll said. “They’re saying Coloradans are discriminating, and that’s not true.”

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