ACLU hires former IL GOP head, Pat Brady, to lobby for gay marriage

August 27, 2013

(AP/File)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has hired former state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady to lobby for a same-sex marriage bill in Springfield, months after his own support of gay marriage sparked a controversy that led to his resignation.

The ACLU confirmed Tuesday that it has hired Next Generation Public Affairs, the lobbying and public relations firm Brady co-founded after he left his party job in May.

“I think the very core of the conservative movement, which I consider myself a part of, is application of equality under the law for all,” Brady said Tuesday in an interview with WBEZ.

Brady will focus on lobbying House Republicans in hopes of getting the same-sex marriage bill passed during this fall’s veto session, he said. He’ll also tap the political donors he cultivated during his four years as party chairman to raise money for groups that support gay marriage, and for Republican lawmakers who may be hesitant to cast a yes vote, fearing a challenge in next year’s primary.

Brady declined to say how much the ACLU is paying him.

His hiring comes after the ACLU launched a $10 million national push in June, aimed at winning support for same-sex marriage from Republican lawmakers and voters in a handful of states, including Illinois.

Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who was formerly a top advisor to Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is heading up the national effort.

“Mr. Brady is someone with deep ties to the Republican Party, deep ties to Republican officeholders across the state, and I think somebody who can help communicate to Republicans - particularly in a state that is the Land of Lincoln - about why it is so important that our party stand on the side of equality for every citizen,” Schmidt said Tuesday.

Schmidt pointed to the state’s “anemic” GOP to say that Republicans should take a new tack on gay marriage, especially to win votes from suburbanites and young people. He wouldn’t say how much much money the national ACLU is willing to spend on media buys and lobbying to push same-sex marriage in Illinois. 

He quit his unpaid party post May 6, following a months-long controversy sparked by his public support of same-sex marriage, a stance which contradicts the GOP platform. Brady rankled some party bosses on the State Central Committee when he announced his support for the bill without telling them first.

He survived an attempt to oust him in April, but there was a quiet agreement reached among party bosses that he would leave later on his own terms.

Despite the past controversy, Brady now says he has no problem working for the liberal ACLU, even if it means taking flak from social conservatives.

“Liberty, freedom and equality under the law are all things that Republicans and conservatives have believed in for a long, long time,” he said. “So I don’t have any qualms with that, and I really excited  to help work with them and get this done right in Illinois.”

Illinois’ gay marriage bill cleared the State Senate on Valentine’s Day, with with Pontiac Republican Sen. Jason Barickman casting the lone GOP yes vote. A push to call the measure for a vote in the State House fizzled in the final hours of the spring session, after supporters backed off because they thought it might fail.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said he’ll sign the bill into law if it gets to his desk.

But getting a gay marriage bill through the Democrat-controlled State House may require Republican votes, as not all Democrats support it. The two GOP State Representatives who are publicly supporting the bill, Ron Sandack of suburban Downers Grove and Ed Sullivan Jr., of Mundelein, say there are a handful of Republicans might be persuaded to vote yes.

Some conservative groups that oppose same-sex marriage, such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Illinois Family Institute, have vowed to spend money to defeat Republican lawmakers who vote in favor of the bill.

Illinois’ political calendar has also made the future of the gay marriage bill more difficult to predict.

It could be called for a vote when lawmakers head back to Springfield for their fall veto session in late October and early November.

But state lawmakers won’t begin to find out until Nov. 25 whether they’ll have challengers in March’s primary, which could make some hesitant to cast a controversial vote before knowing whether there will be someone to use it against them in next year’s primary.

Because of that, Brady’s involvement likely won’t sway GOP House members, especially before the March 18 primary, said Illinois Family Institute Executive Director David Smith.

“It just shows that he doesn’t get conservative values that the Republican Party stands for,” Smith said.

But there are also plenty of deep-pocketed GOP donors ready to support those lawmakers if they face a primary challenge, Brady said.

“There’s gonna be, I think, plenty of money to help those people,” he said.

Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him @akeefe.

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the date on which candidates may begin filing nominating peitions to get on March's primary ballot. Candidates can begin filing those petitions Nov. 25.