In big money politics, women donors still lag

Among top individual donors in 2014, women contributed just 4 percent of total campaign contributions.

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Hillary Clinton’s bid to be America’s first female President could create another “first” for women in politics – a mass influx of women as political donors.

According to POLITICO, more than 60 percent of Clinton’s campaign donors so far are women, and the campaign is actively targeting female donors, particularly younger women and first-timers.

Nevertheless, women are far from equalizing the field in campaign finance: In the game of big money politics, men are overwhelmingly the biggest players.

In 2014, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets, just 16 of the top 100 individual donors were women giving in their own names (as opposed to women giving with their spouses). None of these women were among the top 25 donors, and their contributions totaled $16.4 million – less than 4 percent of the total donated by the top 100.

Top five individual donors in 2014, women versus men

Women Men
Amy Goldman $1,999,759 Thomas Steyer $73,725,000
Virginia James $1,800,000 Michael Bloomberg $28,379,929
Anne Earhart $1,600,000 Paul Singer $10,622,824
Laurie Michaels $1,190,000 Robert Mercer $9,220,000
Laura Arnold

$1,150,000

John Joe Ricketts $8,845,000

Data source: OpenSecrets

Likewise in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, only 11 of the top 100 individual donors were women, while women’s contributions made up just 30 percent of campaign donations overall.

The relative dearth of women donors leads to the ironic result that while more and more women are running for office, their support comes mostly from men. In 2012, again according to the Center for Responsive Politics, none of the Senate candidates and only one House candidate – Illinois’ Jan Schakowsky – received the majority of his or her campaign contributions from women.

Among the Senate candidates who received the most donations from women – Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) – the share of contributions from women varied from 43.7 percent to 45.5 percent.

One obvious reason for the disparities in political giving between women and men is that women have less money to give. Not only do women make just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, women are still vastly underrepresented in the ranks of chief executives and high-flying entrepreneurs who can best afford to donate large sums to candidate. According to Catalyst, only 23 women currently serve as CEOS among S&P 500 companies.

But another barrier may be “cultural” – women are not only unaccustomed to wielding political power as donors, they might be uncomfortable doing so. As the Women’s Campaign Forum concluded:

[W]omen do not necessarily think their money matters in showing support for a candidate’s campaign and the issues she champions. They do not tend to connect political leadership with positive, productive social change. Women also do not view political giving as a civic responsibility, like voting or volunteering for a campaign.

But in other matters, women are more than willing to exercise the power of their purse. The Women’s Campaign Forum notes, for example, that women give to twice as many charitable organizations as do men.

In the post-Citizens United world, the loudest voices belong to those who can buy the biggest megaphones. But as deplorable as the influence of money in politics has become, it’s more deplorable still when half of the electorate doesn’t participate at the level it should.

Though some may argue that urging more women to donate will only escalate the arms race that campaign finance has become, the addition of these voices could also bring an impetus for reform that’s so far been lacking.

Anne Kim is Editor of Founder of Republic 3.0.

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