Fong Signs Contract on Gay Rights, Deal quells discord with GOP groups

Carla Marinucci, Mark Simon, John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writers, San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, October 27, 1998 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

Republican Senate candidate Matt Fong, reeling from reports of his financial link to one of California's most virulently anti-gay and anti-abortion groups, signed a unique pledge of support yesterday for a list of major gay-rights issues.

The unprecedented written agreement came after gay Republican groups threatened to pull their endorsements of Fong, endangering the state treasurer's carefully wrought image as a moderate alternative to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.

"We had to clear the record," said Kevin Ivers, a spokesman for the national Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group that negotiated the pledge with Fong.

The California Log Cabin Republicans considered dropping their endorsement of Fong but are pleased by his new promise of support, said Mark Patrosso of San Jose, the group's chair.

In an effort to limit the damage, Fong signed a one-page agreement yesterday in which he promised to:

"I pledge my support on these issues in the U.S. Senate as outlined above," Fong said in the document, which was signed and dated yesterday.

Campaign officials argued that the signed agreement was nothing unusual and merely "codified" verbal assurances Fong had given gay Republicans in August, when they first endorsed him.

"We wanted to take this opportunity to make our positions very, very clear so that everyone could see that Matt Fong is a man of his word," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for Fong.

Repeated efforts to reach Sheldon for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

Fong's donation to Sheldon, revealed in the San Francisco Examiner on Sunday in the last week of a nip-and-tuck Senate race, has created a serious political detour for the GOP state treasurer. Fong held a news conference in San Jose yesterday to tout his endorsement by Silicon Valley high-tech leaders but ended up facing a battery of questions about his financial support for Sheldon.

"I don't agree with everything Lou Sheldon does," he told reporters. "I don't always agree with the Log Cabin Club, either."

Fong, who has called Sheldon a longtime friend, said he donated the money from his leftover 1994 campaign funds after being assured that it would be used only for a poll on a proposed initiative banning same-sex marriages in California.

But Art Torres, who heads the state Democratic party, said he wants the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether the donation to Sheldon's organization was directly linked to the strong placement Fong received in the Christian organization's slate cards, which focused on his support for issues the coalition favors.

In response, Schmidt said, "Matt Fong is a unifier able to work with people from all sides of the issues, and he will fight bigotry and intolerance with his dying breath."

In San Francisco, a coalition of community groups demanded yesterday that Fong take back his donation to Sheldon.

"Matt Fong has aligned himself in secret with the most reprehensible group," said Episcopal Bishop Otis Charles.

Lawrence Wong, a San Francisco City College commissioner, said Asian American groups plan to contact Fong's backers in the local Asian community to ask them to rethink their support.

The support of Sheldon, he said, "encourages the kinds of actions that prey on minorities, women... and the disenfranchised."