The Victory Fund: A brief history
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund was created by advocates who believed democracy works best for LGBT Americans when our community is reflected in the political leadership at all levels of government. Our founders set out to grow the number of openly LGBT elected officials by engaging donors to support the campaigns of out candidates.
The 1990 election of Texas Governor Ann Richards provided the unlikely catalyst for the beginnings of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Though she was outspent by her multi-millionaire opponent, Richards had raised $10.5 million to become the Lone Star State's top elected official.
Clayton Williams, her oilman foe, raised $20 million, with at least $10 million in the form of a personal loan to his own campaign. Subtracting the cash Williams provided his own campaign, Richards not only beat him at the ballot box, she actually raised $500,000 more than he did. Her impressive ability to fundraise was directly related to an endorsement from EMILY's List, a donor network of dedicated contributors who had agreed to support Democratic, pro-choice women political candidates.
The acronym EMILY stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast," a reference to making the "dough" rise. Contributions to viable candidates, given early and in sufficient quantities, transformed qualified candidates from "fringe" status to "front-runners," an idea that intrigued some LGBT activists and fundraisers who longed to see more members of their own community in public office.
Within days of Richards' election, Dallas gay activist William Waybourn (pictured left) placed a call to former Human Rights Campaign Fund Executive Director Vic Basile. Waybourn wondered how the LGBT community and its out political candidates could replicate the strategy developed by EMILY's List. Basile and Waybourn agreed to meet in Washington, D.C., in December of 1990 to discuss the development of a similar organization.
The initial reaction to the idea among gay and lesbian leaders was tremendous. Waybourn and Basile met again in New York in January of 1991, and again LGBT leaders encouraged them to start such an organization. During the next several months, Waybourn and Basile sought financial commitments from major funders, and asked community leaders selected for their fundraising and political prowess to serve on the founding board of directors.
Founding Board and Early Success
Portland activist and fundraiser Terry Bean, longtime political guru David Mixner of Los Angeles, former Columbus, Ohio professional athlete Lynn Greer, Los Angeles AIDS researcher and physician Scott Hitt, West Coast attorney and activist Roberta Bennett, then Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance Executive Director John Thomas, San Francisco businessman David Detrick, recording industry executive Hilary Rosen, and then Human Rights Campaign Fund Executive Director Tim McFeeley were among those who committed to raising $10,000 each to serve on the board. These funds would be used to sustain the operation of the Victory Fund until a sufficient level of memberships could be attained.
On May 1, 1991, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund was formally created as a multi-candidate federal political action committee, and the organization set out to build a national network of donors that would mirror the success seen by EMILY's List. Waybourn was hired as executive director and Basile signed on as a consultant. Individuals joined the organization with a contribution of $100 or more, and agreed to make a minimum annual contribution of $100 to at least two recommended candidates.
In the fall of 1991, Seattle City Council candidate Sherry Harris (pictured right) became the first candidate recommended to the Victory Fund donor network, then consisting of only 181 members. The overriding question at that time was whether or not lesbians and gays living in other regions of the country would contribute money to the campaign of an African American woman running for office in the Northwest. The answer was an overwhelming "yes."
The Victory Fund donor network delivered more than $14,000 for Harris' campaign (including City of Seattle matching funds for each check up to $50), helping Harris beat a 24-year incumbent and become the nation's first openly lesbian African-American city councilmember.
The Victory Fund began to grow at a rapid rate. Its goal was to raise a total of $80,000 for six candidates during its first full election cycle. Instead, it raised more than $263,000 for 12 candidates, six of whom won their races. The 1993 membership goal called for an increase to 1,800 members. Due to successful direct mail and special events, Victory surpassed this goal just 21 days into the New Year. In the 1994 election, Victory helped elect 14 candidates and distributed more than $660,000.
Brian Bond led the organization as executive director from 1997 to 2003, and in 1998, the Victory Fund was instrumental in electing to the U.S. Congress Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. (pictured left), the nation's first member of congress ever elected to that body for the first time as openly LGBT.
Victory Fund board member Chuck Wolfe was named executive director in 2003. Under Wolfe's leadership, revenue has grown from $1.5 million to $5 million in 2011.
On that first day of May in 1991 when Victory was launched, just 49 openly LGBT elected officials served in the U.S. Today, the vision of Victory's founders is being realized in remarkable ways. More than 500 out elected officials serve at all levels of government.
Milestones in LGBT Politics in America