Systemic advantage

Why women politicians’ male opponents are almost always better funded

Amy McGrath speaking onstage the at the Women in the World D.C. salon in March 2018. (WITW)

While record numbers of women have run for Congress and won primaries this year, many women politicians have found themselves facing a huge obstacle in their election efforts — a dramatic fundraising gap that has seen male candidates, competitive or otherwise, start with a tremendous financial advantage over their female opponents.

In the wake of the election of President Donald Trump, donations from women to Republican men have fallen steeply while contributions from women to Democratic women have surged — a trend described by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute as “rage giving.” Despite this shift, an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics found, men still contribute an estimated 65 percent of all donations to congressional campaigns. Many male candidates — including the best funded ones — also tend to be independently wealthy businessmen, who not only can contribute vast sums to their own campaigns but also reap the financial rewards of a network of business connections. Women politicians, in general, have had less wealth readily available, but have instead found success through grassroots campaigns that raise money by securing numerous small donations from voters.

The case of Amy McGrath, a retired marine and military pilot running for the House in Kentucky as a Democrat, illustrates the challenge. McGrath has raised the second-highest amount of any female House candidate, 24 percent of which come from donors who gave $200 or less, while her Republican opponent, incumbent Representative Andy Barr, has raised just 4 percent of his funds from small donors. Forty percent of Barr’s war chest comes from political action committees, which can be used by corporations, businesses, and privately wealthy individuals to funnel millions of dollars into political races. By comparison, McGrath has only raised 4 percent of her funding from PACs.

Lauren Baer, a decorated lawyer and former Obama administration employee, told the Times that highlighting her wife and children in her campaign literature had helped her court contributions from the LGBTQ community and fellow mothers alike. She described one event in which 40 mothers met up at for a fundraiser in a supporter’s house at 8:30 in the morning, many with their young daughters in tow.

“None of them have previously been engaged in political giving, but they are energized to see someone like them running for office, and they want to show that example to their daughters,” Baer explained. “What that is showing is the power of female candidates to build new political coalitions that will redefine the shape of our parties and our electoral politics for decades to come.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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