Republican Senator Ron Johnson with Ian Reisner the evening the gay hotelier hosted a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Republican. | FACEBOOK.COM
A host and guests at a fundraiser held in a Central Park South penthouse owned by embattled real estate developers Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass (see Editor's note below regarding Weiderpass' role in this event) donated at least $10,600 to Republican Ron Johnson, a right-wing US senator from Wisconsin who faces a 2016 challenge from Democrat Russ Feingold.
Reisner, who is gay, gave Johnson $2,700, the maximum allowed under federal election law. Reisner, who has otherwise largely supported Democrats, gave $2,700 to Hillary Clinton on June 15.
Other donors who maxed out at the Johnson event were Ken Mehlman, a longtime Republican Party operative who is also gay, and Sam Domb, a longtime Reisner business associate. Domb owns the property that houses the Out NYC, Reisner’s Midtown hotel.
Gay hoteliers hustle for right-wing Republican over veteran progressive Russ Feingold
Other donors included Jonathan Canno, a founding trustee of the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), who gave $1,000, and Tzvi Odzer, who gave $1,500 and was described as an “entrepreneur” in a press release about the fundraiser. There may have been other donors who made additional donations at the April 14 fundraiser.
Demonstrators outside the Out Hotel in April protesting an event Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass hosted for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. | DONNA ACETO
The hosts and the guests were supporting Johnson because of the senator’s support for Israel and his views on the Middle East, according to the press release, which described those in attendance as “a bipartisan group of Jewish business leaders –– both committed Republicans and several traditionally aligned with Democrats.” The agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which was announced in July but still faces congressional review, was also mentioned.
“I saw up close the death and devastation of radical Islam at Ground Zero on the evening of September 11, 2001,” Reisner said in the press release. “I don't want to see New Yorkers once again incinerated by Islamic extremists from the Middle East.”
The Out NYC and Reisner’s properties in the Pines on Fire Island came under boycott after the New York Times reported that he held an April 20 fundraiser for Republican Ted Cruz, a Texas senator and candidate for the Republican nomination for president. (This reporter has supported the boycott and played a role in organizing it.) The community objected to Reisner and Weiderpass, who is also an owner of Out NYC, taking money from their LGBT customers and giving it to anti-LGBT right-wingers.
After their April 20 meeting with Cruz, Reisner donated $2,700 to his campaign, but asked that the money be returned after an outcry over the donation. Federal Election Commission records confirm that Reisner’s donation was made and then returned.
A banner at the April Out Hotel protest. | DONNA ACETO
Cruz and Johnson are associated with the Tea Party movement and are anti-LGBT. Both oppose same-sex marriage and both voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2013. ENDA, which barred employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, had broad support in polls.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT political group, gave Johnson a zero ranking out of a possible 100 in the 113th Congress and a 15 out of a possible 100 in the 112th Congress. Feingold, who served three terms in the Senate beginning in 1993, had rankings from HRC in the high 80s and low 90s during his final six years in office.
Johnson beat Feingold in 2010, taking 52 percent of the vote to Feingold’s 47 percent to first win the Senate seat. Wisconsin has since elected Tammy Baldwin, an out lesbian, to the US Senate. The state’s conservative governor, Scott Walker, was elected in 2010, survived a recall in 2012, and was reelected in 2014. President Barack Obama won Wisconsin by wide margins in 2008 and 2012.
As of the end of June, Johnson reported $3.1 million in net contributions, with $2.8 million in cash on hand. Feingold reported $2.3 million in net contributions, with $2 million in cash on hand.
Apparently aware that Wisconsin voters may have shifted in their views, Johnson has since softened his anti-marriage rhetoric.
“I’m pretty traditional guy, almost 60 years old,” Johnson said during a 2014 appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “I think marriage is between a man and a woman. But again if the voters decide that they want gay marriage I’m not going to oppose it.”
This year, he voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would extend federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of veterans. The amendment failed. Johnson told Roll Call that this was “recognizing the reality of the situation” under federal law since the US Supreme Court required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in its 2013 ruling in Windsor v. US.
“It's basically current law,” Johnson said. “The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples qualify for federal benefits. I think it’s putting veterans, who are legally married in a state where it’s legal [then] move to another one, that’s unequal treatment under the law and puts our veterans in a tough position.”
While not a sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, in July, Johnson voted in favor of an amendment that would have added SNDA’s provisions to another piece of Senate legislation. The amendment was rejected.
Reisner did not respond to requests for comment. Editor's note: During the week after this story was published online, Weiderpass, who had not originally responded to a request for comment, contacted Gay City News to say that he was not a host of the fundraiser and did not attend it, explaining he had been aware that it was held in “another apartment” in the building where he lives. Despite the fact that the invitation to the event lists the apartment Weiderpass shares with Reisner as the location of the event, Weiderpass asserts it took place at another address where he is not an owner.