Women have not come to terms with this reality: Only 27 percent of all individual political donations at the federal level come from women, according to a major new study by the Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation. Of the 778 Congressional campaigners the study considered, only 27 raised more than 50 percent of their money from women. Of the 64 Senate races it tracked, none were primarily funded by women. It’s true that EMILY’s List, which funds pro-choice Democratic women candidates, is the country’s largest political action committee. Still, only 23 percent of all money to the PACs tracked by the study came from women. This, despite the fact that women control 51 percent of the personal wealth in this country, write 80 percent of all household checks, and lead the way in philanthropic giving. Yet we often fail to make the connection between political donations and policy decisions — such as whether those programs we’re supporting through all that volunteer work will get government funding. "Women are not putting their money where their politics are," says Ilana Goldman, president of the Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation.
Although women are not a monolith, politically or any other way, a majority of women voters consistently say they have specific priorities, notably education and healthcare. "We wonder, why don’t we have national healthcare? Why isn’t childcare a campaign issue? Well, I know the answer," Goldman says. "It’s because we’re not voting with our purses." Women often do not look at political donations in the same light that men do — as part of the cost of doing business. "Women tend to give more carefully and in smaller amounts, because they want to make sure the money is well spent," says Donna Brazile, the political strategist who was Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000. "Whereas with men, someone in the business community has asked them to donate, and they know it’s about access and all part of networking."
For women, the price of not making those donations has been steep. "If you’re a candidate and you’ve got limited time," Goldman says, "you’re going to spend time with people who fund you, and women are not at those tables."
What Hillary’s Got to Do with It
In the first quarter of 2007, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential contender with a serious shot at the White House, raised $18.9 million for the primaries; in the second she raised an estimated $21 million — both healthy sums of money, despite falling short of Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s even more jaw-dropping $24.8 million and $31 million. In 2006, Clinton was the top fund-raiser in American politics. And even though she had no serious challenger in her 2006 race, she ran the most expensive Senate campaign in the country, reportedly raising $51.6 million and spending $40.8 million, compared with the $5.8 million raised by her Republican opponent, John Spencer. Clinton’s success has been in large part due to her ability to take advantage of her husband’s unparalleled network, one that she spent decades helping him build and maintain. Because of this, her operation does not seem to be any more dominated by women donors than his was. But it is no coincidence that Clinton chose longtime aide Patti Solis Doyle, 41, to be her campaign manager: Doyle previously ran Clinton’s two major fund-raising operations for last year’s Senate campaign, and Clinton clearly values that experience.