Is Sacramento’s Schubert Flint Public Affairs the ‘same-sex marriage’ firm?

Local screening of Proposition 8-related documentary reveals powerful Sacramento PR company

Question One screens on Wednesday, February 1, at 6:30 p.m. (sold out) and 8:30 p.m. at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street;

There are a lot of differences between Maine and California—lobster vs. crab, Nor’easter vs. Pineapple Express weather patterns, and “ayup” vs. “hella,” to highlight just a few. But one thing both states have in common is this: Voters in each rejected marriage equality after an election campaign orchestrated by Sacramento-based consulting firm Schubert Flint Public Affairs.

A documentary film about the Maine election, Question One, will have a limited one-night engagement at the Crest Theatre this week. The film’s director, Joseph Fox, was in town recently and spoke to SN&R about the unusual access he had to both sides of the effort—and how he learned that Sacramento was calling the shots in Maine.

In a situation remarkably similar to what happened in California in 2008, Maine legislators enacted a marriage-equality law (allowing same-sex partners full civil-marriage equality) in 2009. It also was placed on the ballot for voter referendum by a signature-gathering campaign, similar to the initiative that placed Proposition 8 on the California ballot.

And then, the Maine Question 1 fight began.

“We expected to hear the party line from both sides,” Fox said of the referendum battle. But instead, the filmmaker says he was surprised by a couple of things: the conflict experienced by Yes on 1’s local chairman and the extent to which Sacramento-based Schubert Flint Public Affairs, the architects of California’s Prop. 8 public relations strategy, were calling the shots.

“We, along with everyone else in Maine, were under the impression that this was a local, homegrown campaign,” Fox said. “It turned out that that wasn’t true: The campaign was run on remote control from a Sacramento-based PR firm called Schubert Flint.”

In addition to the power of SFPA, co-chairman Mark Mutty, who was on loan from the Catholic archdiocese of Portland for the campaign, quickly became a focus of the film.

“There was a very big disconnect between what Mutty was saying publicly and what he really thought,” Fox said. “He was very conflicted about the issue, and about the role he was taking, and he was very conflicted about the ads that were being run.”

These ads, essentially identical to those run in California by the Prop. 8 campaign, were created by SFPA. And the film’s most revealing moments look at why Mutty was at odds with the Yes on 1 campaign’s message, tactics and TV ads.

Fox and his crew also captured instances of the campaign’s co-chairs, Mutty and Bob Emmerich, an evangelical pastor, discovering at the last minute that strategic decisions had been made by SFPA.

Frank Schubert, the president of SFPA, is in the film. He’s seen speaking to Yes on 1 staff and from the podium on election night. However, he refused to grant an interview to Fox and the film crew.

“I tried four times to interview Schubert, and he turned me down on each occasion,” Fox said. Finally, Schubert sent Fox an email stating that “he didn’t want his firm to be known as the same-sex marriage firm.”

“He really took great pains to explain that to me in an email,” said Fox.

Schubert declined to speak to SN&R for this story, stating instead in an email that the documentary has “been public for over four months already and been very lightly attended.”

“I have no plan to watch it as I already know how the movie ends,” the email concluded.

Schubert just might be wrong about that: The first scheduled screening at the Crest sold out, necessitating the addition of a second screening.