Women Give Dems Big Bucks, Get Little in Return

Election '08

WASHINGTON -- Female supporters of Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are reaching into their pocketbooks in record numbers to donate record amounts.

Women have given Clinton nearly half of the $100 million she has raised from individuals who have given large-dollar contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C., that tracks money in politics.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has gotten $43 million from female donors giving more than $200, which represents about 41 percent of the $104 million he has raked in from large-dollar individual donors so far, according to the center.

Those figures represent a huge jump over the past, when women's contributions were less than 30 percent of most candidates' campaign accounts, said Ilana Goldman, president of the Women's Campaign Forum, a group in Washington, D.C., that backs pro-choice female political candidates.

"This election has been so inspiring to so many people, they feel it's worth it to invest their money," Goldman said.

Fewer Republican women have been giving to the campaign of their presumptive nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. About 9,000 women have given him a total of nearly $13 million, roughly 28 percent of the $46 million he has raised from large-dollar contributors so far.

Whether this heightened activity on the Democratic side represents a permanent increase of female political giving is unclear, Goldman said. "It's too soon to call. I very much hope that people are going to be engaged in a whole new way."

Too Little Bang for the Bucks

But some observers say women aren't getting much bang for their political buck.

Campaign agendas don't adequately reflect the spike in contributions from women, said Carol Hardy-Fanta, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She pointed the finger not only at male candidates but also at Clinton, the first woman to mount a serious bid for the White House.

"Given that there's a woman running, this has been a remarkably poor year for women's issues being on the agenda," she said, adding that once women started to be at higher-level positions, she thought campaign agendas would become more gender-sensitive.

Issues of particular concern to women -- such as the lack of affordable child care, limited access to birth control and proposed funding cuts to federal domestic violence programs -- are not discussed much, if at all, on the presidential campaign trail, added Martha Burk, author of the just-released book "Your Money and Your Life: The High Stakes for Women Voters in '08 and Beyond."

"In Obama's case, frankly, he hasn't thought about it with a gender lens," she said.

Clinton has addressed the gender wage gap on the stump but has not highlighted other issues of particular concern to women, said Burk, a Clinton supporter and former adviser to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. "I suspect Clinton ... doesn't want to be accused of being too women-focused, which I find disappointing because women are the majority and will elect the next president of the United States."

Goldman said women should be satisfied because the candidates' top issues -- the faltering economy, the war in Iraq and the soaring cost of health care -- are also of paramount concern to them.

"Candidates are talking about issues that women want to hear about," Goldman said. "Women do feel like that investment is paying off quite well."

But Burk and others say candidates could do more to address women's concerns.

One way to do that would be to hit the pay gap harder when talking about the economy, address the prevalence of breast cancer when talking about health care and talk about threats to laws guaranteeing equal opportunity to girls and women in school sports when talking about education, said Robin Leeds, principal of Winning Strategies, a nonpartisan political consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

"It would be ideal if the money that women raise and contribute were proportional to the level of commitment to a gender-integrated strategy," Leeds said. "Although there has been some progress, we have a long way to go to fully integrate a gender perspective into all aspects of campaigns."

But other observers see rapid progress this cycle.

"We have such a short memory," said Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a nonprofit group in New York dedicated to electing a woman to the presidency. "In the last eight years, the word 'woman' didn't even appear in presidential campaigns," she said. "Now, the top issues on the domestic agenda are primary issues for women."

Moreover, she said, female voters are getting more attention than ever this cycle. "I think we're front and center."

Catching Up in Donations

Although women tend to vote in higher numbers than men, they have lagged behind in political giving.

In the 2006 midterm elections, men gave 73 percent of individual hard money contributions to candidates, party committees and political action committees. In the same cycle, men gave 72 percent of contributions of $1,000 or more, a figure that has not changed in a decade, according to the Women's Campaign Forum.

Those figures do not take into account contributions less than $200, which are not recorded by the federal government.

Women are active small-dollar contributors, Burk said. Indeed, they have driven the growth of groups like EMILY's List, now the largest non-union political action committee in the country. The group, which backs pro-choice female Democrats, raised $46 million in the last election cycle, predominantly from women; the average donation was $98.

Women are also active campaign volunteers, but those in-kind contributions also go unrecorded.

And while men give more overall to charities, women also demonstrate an outsized tendency toward philanthropy, giving to nearly two times as many charitable organizations than men and more often leaving bequests to such groups.

But their tendency to link positive social change with charities -- and leave political giving to men may be changing.

From January 2007 through March 20, 2008, more than 38,000 women gave Clinton large-dollar donations totaling nearly $48 million, according to the center. They outnumbered the 33,000 men who gave Clinton $52 million.

For his part, Obama has gotten more than $43 million from about 43,000 female big-money contributors and $61 million from 58,000 men.

Copyright 2008 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.

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