McClendon gift raises eyebrows

Several Seattle media outlets have recently reported that Duke benefactor Aubrey McClendon, Trinity '81, donated more than a million dollars to an anti-gay marriage group in 2004 and 2005.

McClendon and his partner at Chesapeake Energy, Tom Ward, contributed approximately $1.1 million to Americans United to Preserve Marriage. McClendon and Ward also share principal ownership of two Seattle basketball franchises, the NBA Supersonics and the WNBA Storm-a circumstance that has brought the donations under scrutiny.

The Storm is a major lesbian attraction in left-leaning Seattle, according to The Seattle Times, but the NBA also banned former star Tim Hardaway from the league's All-Star Weekend for making homophobic remarks in February.

"I am for the concept that a marriage should be between a man and a woman; on the other hand, I am for civil unions for gay couples," McClendon told The Chronicle Wednesday. "In my opinion, that does not make me anti-gay at all. Instead, it makes me pro-the traditional concept of marriage, and I do not believe the biblical sacrament should be between anyone other than a man and a woman."

Junior Katharine Eggleston, president of a gay advocacy group Duke Allies, said McClendon's gift seems to be largely a non-issue for members of the University's gay and lesbian community.

"There are gay people who don't support changing the law to allow marriage," she said. "I don't really know what the implications should be for Duke. He gives money to them, he gives money to us and they don't affect each other."

McClendon and Ward made donations of $250,000 to AUPM-which is led by former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer-Sept. 9, 2004, the day after the group was formed. McClendon also gave a quarter-million dollars to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that opposed Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential candidacy.

"There were several gay marriage ballot initiatives in states like Missouri and Ohio in 2004," McClendon said. "I felt like I wanted to support those ballot initiatives, which would be in battleground states for the 2004 elections, and I was hoping there would be some advantage to increasing Republican turnout in states like that."

Donations to the University made by McClendon and his wife Katie, Trinity '80-which have included money to build McClendon Tower and the West Campus Plaza and to refurbish one of Duke Chapel's organs-have exceeded $16 million. McClendon said he considers his political activism separate from his philanthropic endeavors.

"Mr. McClendon has been very generous in supporting Duke's priorities," John Burness, senior vice president for public and government relations, wrote in an e-mail. "It is not our general practice to inquire into the political preferences of our donors any more than it is of our students or faculty."

And McClendon said applying a person's or group's moral code to screen donations would stand in contrast to the University's historical context.

"Certainly Duke wouldn't exist without Mr. Duke donating his tobacco money," he said. "[People] need to be careful not to pitch too small a tent, my belief is that everyone should pitch a pretty big tent to accommodate different points of view, I do on most issues, but I do draw the line on gay marriage.

Iza Wojciechowska contributed to this story.


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