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Two wealthy Republicans are fueling both sides in the fight over Amendment 2

Two wealthy Republicans are the financial fuel behind both sides of the ballot measure that would ban gay marriage in the Florida Constitution.

Backing the measure is the patriarch who founded Amway Corp. On the other side is a little-known telecom multimillionaire.

Donald A. Burns, 45, of West Palm Beach, contributed 18 percent or $400,000 of the $2.2-million raised by Florida Red and Blue, the most prominent group fighting Amendment 2.

On the other side, state records show billionaire Orlando Magic owner Richard DeVos, 82, of Grand Rapids, Mich., has given $100,000, or about 15 percent of the $676,700 raised by Florida4Marriage, the group that collected signatures to put Amendment 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Neither man returned calls seeking comment about his contributions. But their contributions come to light as the campaigns for and against the measure heat up.

This Sunday, Florida4Marriage has provided sample sermons for pastors across the state hoping they'll promote Amendment 2 on as part of "Marriage Sunday."

Florida Red and Blue has launched television commercials, while allies have taken to staging news conferences across the state and debuting Web-only videos, including one Wednesday featuring Michael Schiavo, the widower of Terri Schiavo.

Amendment 2 would define marriage in the state Constitution as between one man and one woman. Florida already has such a state law, but Amendment 2 backers say the law could be overturned, as it was in Connecticut last week, or the Legislature could change it.

The pro and anti forces disagree about whether Amendment 2 would make it more difficult for unmarried couples to share in domestic partner benefits, which would ultimately get decided by lawsuits and the court system.

Burns is a relatively new force on the state political scene. A Republican investor and philanthropist, he gave $500 contributions to Gov. Charlie Crist, Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ken Pruitt.

Last year, he told Florida Red and Blue that he'd match contributions of up to $250,000. Then he contributed another $150,000. The group's campaign manager, Derek Newton, declined to talk about Burns, saying he respected his contributors' privacy.

On the federal campaign scene, Burns is a regular, if eclectic, donor.

When it comes to Republicans, he's given to both Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain. He's a past supporter of President George W. Bush, former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley and Sen. Mel Martinez.

In the 2004 presidential campaign, he contributed $1,000 to the Swift Boat group that attacked Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.

But that same year, Burns gave $2,000 each to Democrat John Edwards and Ralph Nader. He's given $2,300 to Sen. Barack Obama. And back in 2005, he gave $5,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which funds openly gay political candidates.

Burns is a former chief executive of publicly traded Telco Communication Group, a discount long-distance service provider. It was sold in 1997 for $1.2-billion.

In the decade since then, he's launched the Donald A. Burns Foundation, a Palm Beach charitable foundation to "promote educational and social institutions." Tax records show assets of $10.7-million in 2006.

Schools in Palm Beach County, Massachusetts and Mississippi have received grants from the foundation for things like computer labs, inner-city tennis programs and instructional materials.

Burns also owns the New York building where actor Heath Ledger died this year.

The DeVos family, on the other hand, is a familiar name in Florida politics and beyond. It owns the Orlando Magic basketball team. Richard DeVos Jr., the 52-year-old son, ran an unsuccessful campaign for Michigan governor in 2006.

The DeVos family has contributed millions toward conservative causes nationwide, including school voucher, antiabortion and anti-gay marriage efforts.

Over the past 12 years in Florida, both DeVos Sr. and his son have given $700,000 to Florida Republicans, including more than $500,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in 2004.

In 2004, when Michigan considered and ultimately passed its own gay marriage ban, the DeVos family spent $125,000, according to the Grand Rapids Press.

This year, DeVos' contribution to the Florida's gay-marriage ban prompted a protest of 30 people outside of Amway Arena, where the Magic play, on Sept. 28, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who is gay, called for an investigation on whether DeVos' support of Amendment 2 violates the city's ordinance banning discrimination.

John Stemberger, leader of Florida4Marriage, declined to talk about DeVos except to say: "We appreciate all of the support the Yes2Marriage Campaign has received from our volunteers, grass root workers and contributors both big and small like Mr. DeVos."

Times researchers Will Short Gorham and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Two wealthy Republicans are fueling both sides in the fight over Amendment 2 10/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 6:12pm]
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