Last week’s furor over former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was sparked, in part, by OkCupid’s decision to blast Eich by way of its website. Users visiting the OkCupid homepage with Mozilla Firefox were greeted with a message asking them to use a different browser given Eich’s $1,000 donation to the Proposition 8 campaign to end same-sex marriage in California.
"We've devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together," read the message. "If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we've worked so hard to bring about would be illegal.” After Eich’s resignation, OkCupid released a statement announcing its support for the decision, "We are pleased that OkCupid's boycott has brought tremendous awareness to the critical matter of equal rights for all individuals and partnerships.”
Judging from all of this, you’d think OkCupid and its leaders were incredibly friendly to LGBT Americans. Writing for Mother Jones, Hannah Levintova says this isn’t the case:
OkCupid's co-founder and CEO Sam Yagan once donated to an anti-gay candidate. (Yagan is also CEO of Match.com.) Specifically, Yagan donated $500 to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in 2004, reports Uncrunched. During his time as congressman from 1997 to 2009, Cannon voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, against a ban on sexual-orientation based job discrimination, and for prohibition of gay adoptions.
Cannon, notes Mother Jones, was also a reliable vote for laws to restrict abortion and related services:
Among other measures, Cannon voted for laws prohibiting government from denying funds to medical facilities that withhold abortion information, stopping minors from crossing state lines to obtain an abortion, and banning family planning funding in US aid abroad.
For Mother Jones, this is evidence of hypocrisy. I think it’s a nothingburger.
Yes, it’s entirely possible that Yagan’s donation was in support of Cannon’s anti-gay votes. But it’s also possible that Yagan—then, as now, a wealthy businessperson—was donating in support of Cannon’s conservative record on taxes and regulation. Indeed, Yagan also donated to Barack Obama in 2007, when the then-senator was a noted opponent of same-sex marriage. Is this evidence of Yagan’s anti-gay sympathies? Or was he giving in support of Obama’s other positions?
Barring a statement from Yagan himself, it’s impossible to know. Support for a politician isn’t the same as support for an issue. It can be—odds are good that a Rand Paul donor has strong feelings on civil liberties—but it’s hard to know for sure. After all, most politicians have a wide array of interests and concerns, and a donation might be in support of any one of them. In the absence of any other information, a donation to Cannon in 2004 (or to Obama in 2008) says nothing about Yagan’s stance on a particular issue.
By contrast, Brendan Eich gave to a single-issue campaign. No one supports activists for the sake of supporting them—you do so to show your beliefs and priorities. Believe what you want about Yagan, but based on the evidence we have, there’s no comparing his donation to Eich’s. The former is ambiguous, the latter completely clear.