Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) raked in more than $500,000 in campaign contributions during the first quarter this year -- an eye-popping haul that some political insiders relate to Maloney's outspoken defense of same-sex marriage.
Maloney is the first openly gay politician to represent New York in Congress. He and his partner, Randy Florke -- the two are not married -- have adopted three children. Although Maloney's sexual orientation was not a major factor in his successful campaign last year, he since has spoken out repeatedly on the marriage issue, arguing that his family is fundamentally no different from other American families.
Among political professionals, the fundraising success was seen as confirmation that Maloney's message has resonated with his constituency. Coinciding with a nationwide debate on gay and lesbian rights, Maloney's stance has raised his profile nationwide, political observers said.
Recently, Maloney joined with other members of New York's congressional delegation to urge that the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act. At the time, he said he views the issue as "personal" and called the Bill Clinton-era act "hateful."
"Sean has entered Congress at a moment when we are having a national discussion on gay and lesbian issues, and he is the embodiment of that," said Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a nationwide group that works to support openly gay candidates and has backed Maloney's campaign. "The fact that he has a partner of 20 years and children means that we're not talking about an abstract issue."
Maloney, 46, defeated Republican incumbent Nan Hayworth in November. He was one of 82 freshmen joining the 435-seat House, where Republicans continue to hold a 233-200 advantage despite a net loss of eight seats in November.
Political observers say his campaign fundraising prowess has been impressive and may help Maloney entrench himself in short order. Maloney will mark his 100th day in Congress on Wednesday.
"You start out as a freshmen in a competitive district with a big target on your back," said Evan Stavisky, a political consultant with the Parkside Group. "The way you get that target off your back is by raising money and working the district. And it certainly seems like he's doing a good job at that."
Maloney's campaign said most of the money raised in the first quarter came from New Yorkers and that at least 80 percent of the contributions were from individuals. The claim couldn't be independently verified as his campaign finance report isn't due until April 15.
By comparison, Hayworth raised only $330,000 in the first quarter of 2011, her freshman year in Congress, according to Federal Election Commission filings. And more than half of that money came from Republican super PACs, according to FEC reports.
"I'm overwhelmed by the support of folks who are ready to turn the page on the Tea Party," Maloney said in a statement on the fundraising Monday. "Although some in Congress want to continue an extreme partisan agenda, I will continue to work with folks on both sides of the aisle to create good-paying jobs in our region and stay focused on our economy."
Democratic super PACs pumped more than $1.6 million into Maloney's bid to oust Hayworth in the 18th Congressional District last year, blanketing the airwaves with biting criticism of Hayworth's support for Tea Party positions.
Pundits have speculated that Hayworth's defeat was accountable more to a big turnout by President Barack Obama's supporters in cities such as Newburgh, Poughkeepsie and Middletown than to Democratic super PAC spending. Republican and conservative outside groups spent more than $2.89 million on Hayworth's behalf, nearly twice the amount spent by groups backing Maloney.
Stavisky suggested that where the money is coming from is less relevant than how much is being raised.
"The reality is money is money," he said. "He's giving his opponents a half-million reasons to consider doing something else."
Maloney's campaign sends out regular messages to supporters, setting monthly fundraising goals with a sense of urgency, suggesting that he is under constant attack from the Tea Party and Republican-backed super PACs.
"There's too much at stake," campaign manager Chris Morrin said in a recent email blast to Maloney supporters. "We can't let a group of Tea Party extremists push Sean out of office."
Republicans already are targeting the freshman lawmaker in negative TV ads and on the Internet, setting the stage for next year's election. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC working to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives, has taken aim at Maloney and several other Democratic freshman lawmakers with its first ads of the 2014 election cycle.
The anti-Maloney ads, now running on local cable stations and online, are geared toward suburban women and feature a simulation of a mother struggling to balance her budget. The ads point out that Maloney voted against Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal to reduce the federal debt by slashing entitlement programs.