Philly Gay Man Contributes $1 Million to Obama Campaign
With his recent donation of $1 million to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign fund, Philadelphia entrepreneur and philanthropist Mel Heifetz followed his conscience in working to keep in office a sitting president who has prioritized LGBT rights more than any other. And that’s just a drop in the bucket of his philanthropic largesse, which includes paying off the mortgage for his hometown gay community center.
"I imagined what it would be like to have President Romney nominating the next round of Supreme Court justices or waging another senseless war in the Middle East," Mel Heifetz wrote in a Huffington Post column. "He could put this country back on a downward spiral by gutting financial regulations and stripping away services that protect the middle class and help a poor boy growing up in Philly get a chance to build a great life and become a donor the way I did."
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Heifetz has more than simply a history of generous donations. He has built a legacy of giving essential aid to LGBT causes across the nation, especially focused in his hometown. A former Human Rights Campaign Humanitarian of the Year, Heifetz’s trail of endowments and donations can be found in virtually every pocket of Philadelphia’s LGBT political and community organizations.
Growing up poor and joining the U.S. Army at 18, Heifetz has spent his entire life working relentlessly for more than just personal success. His history of local humanitarianism has been consistently stunning. He has frequently played the role of benefactor to several foundering LGBT and HIV/AIDS non-profits afloat. He also has continued involvement in local successful organizations, such as the Mazzoni Center, the LGBT Elder Initiative, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and countless others.
One particularly notable example of such involvement was his decision to pay off the mortgage of the local LGBT community center, The William Way Center. With this action, he did more than lift a financial burden. He wanted to ensure that not only would the institution remain an asset to the community, but also that when others donated money that it wouldn’t go to the bank, but to actual activities and services.
EDGE spoke with William Way Center Executive Director Chris Bartlett about their relationship with Heifetz and how his actions affect the Center and the LGBT community. Bartlett agreed that Heifetz’s donation was essential to helping the Center continue its operations effectively.
"In 2005, Mel contributed $274,000 to pay off the Center’s mortgage," said Bartlett. "Through this incredible gift, Mel retired over $391,270 in principal and interest payments over the following 10 years. If it weren’t for Mel’s gift at that time, we would likely still be paying off our mortgage now. It allowed us to put funds that would have gone towards mortgage expense toward program efforts at the Center."
Bartlett went on to describe Heifetz as an exceptionally strategic philanthropist known for carefully considering the recipients of his donations. Heifetz has shown a desire to ensure that his gifts make an impact in the long term and will also inspire others in the community to give on a level they can afford.
Heifetz Makes a Big Splash in Local and National Gay Politics
When asked about Heifetz’s impact on local and national LGBT politics, Bartlett discussed how Heifetz’s history of being a shrewd and thoughtful community and political figure helps him in his goal to motivate others.
"Mel’s voice is definitely heard on the national stage as a result of his commitment to LGBT and LGBT-friendly candidates," said Bartlett. "Since he is committed to community involvement and empowerment, I know that he wants to know that we will stand alongside him and make our own contributions."
Over the years, Heifetz has become increasingly involved in politics as the stakes for the LGBT community continue to rise. One of his more recent political moves is his standing $2 million offer to the City of Philadelphia to buy the back-rent saddled building the Boy Scouts reside in so that he could put it to use for an organization that does not discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity.
Now, Heifetz is joining the elite ranks of fundraising: political campaigns. It is no secret that political finance campaigns can be not only the most competitive, but frequently the nastiest. Presidential campaign fundraising is by far the biggest horror. With every election it can appear that the candidates are spending more time at fundraising events than they are seriously preparing to become President of the United States.
Still, the benefits of campaign donations cannot be disputed, and so election years have become a warzone of political ideology and financial might. There is no community a candidate will not visit to elicit campaign funding. Furthermore, donation ceilings have done little to decrease the amount of money thrown into a campaign. Instead, donation "bundlers" have become commonplace. A bundler is a person who sidesteps the donation limits by gathering amounts from large networks, contacts and friends and creating a bundle of money to present to the campaign.
In this election year, it is estimated that one out of every six of these increasingly important bundlers for the Obama campaign are LGBT. With his sizable donation of $1 million to the pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA, Heifetz can count himself within that statistic.
In the column for Huffington Post, Heifetz provided an explanation as to what motivated him to donate such a large sum of money. As with many donors, it is more the fear of the alternative to Obama that spurred him on.
But he also talks about how other large donors such as Bill Maher and Morgan Freeman also helped him in his decision to give what is now the largest donation in his long history of philanthropy. Heifetz notes that it was the publicizing of their actions that had a profound effect on his thought process of how to help in this increasingly urgent election.
Because of this conclusion, Heifetz, who has in the past been notorious for being more a silent donor to most of the causes he believes in, also made sure to explain his decision in the Huffington Post column, saying that he hopes that he can lead by example.
"Do I think that that $1,000,000 was wisely spent?" he mused. "Yes, I do. Do I want everyone to do what they can to help President Obama win? Yes, I do. Would I like others to do what I did -- especially those who have a lot more zeroes in their bank accounts than I do? Absolutely."
Heifetz’s brand of activism is one of personal responsibility and social consciousness. At age 76, he has lived his life with a selflessness that most could only dream of. Even as early as the 1980s, he worked to helping our community by putting those suffering from HIV/AIDS on his personal insurance and raising awareness about the epidemic.
It is a logical progression then that after decades of working to make things better for the people of his community, his city and his country, Heifetz would be led to a grander arena like the presidential election. With such a vast amount of time and resources poured into the fight for equality, it makes sense for him to try to ensure that it was worth it.
Heifetz stated that while he isn’t sure how he will continue to support the Obama campaign, by donation or otherwise, that for now this felt like not only the right decision, but the necessary one.
"Whatever I might want to contribute in the future, the future is now, and I refuse to sit this one out as some try to take us back with policies that will weaken the country I love and have fought for all my life," said Heifetz.