The landmark Supreme Court case: Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission established that government cannot restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. While this strongly impacts all candidates for congress, women campaigning for public office have felt the blunt end of the 2010 court decision.
Three of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices are women, part of the liberal bloc, and voted against Citizens United. The conservative members, all male, outnumber and outvoted the liberal bloc 5-4. Like most cases brought to the Supreme Court, party ties decided the outcome of this case.
The decision most notably spawned the infamous Super PACs—Political Action Committees that can receive and distribute unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, and individual donors. The Center for Responsive Politics states, “Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.” Thus, most Super PAC money is going toward party politics, not individual candidates.
But, a critical question arises for the 66 percent of registered female voters: Does unlimited funding from Super PACs affect women running for, and winning, congressional campaigns?
To put party politics into perspective with gender representation, of the 20 women in the Senate, 16 are Democrats, 4 are Republicans. In the House, women hold 77 of 435 seats; 58 are Democrats, 19 are Republicans. Women are both underrepresented in Congress and overwhelmingly Democratic. Women make up only 18.1 percent of the 113th Congress.
The Center for Responsive Politics analyzed Super PAC data, breaking down Super PAC spending and donor information. $252 million was spent on electioneering against Democratic candidates and their platform, with $103.7 million supporting Republicans, which accounts for 56.5 percent of Super PAC spending. The other 43.5 percent was split by $225.8 million going on issues against Republicans and $48.7 million for Democrats. A disconcerting trend: the spending gap between the two parties. It is also important to note that this funding does not track spending for independent candidates who are grossly underfunded.
Of those who contributed over $200,000 to Super PACs as well as contributed to a state campaign, Renee Morse is the only woman listed by the Center of Responsive Politics. Her husband, billionaire land developer Gary Morse, and their three children all contributed over $200,000 to conservative Super PAC Restore Our Future—the highest-funded Super PAC in the nation.
To analyze these numbers in the landscape of a political campaign, women are simply outnumbered, and typically run platforms with social issues at the cornerstone. Changing legislation on maternity care, pay equity, and increasing resources for victims of sexual assault continue to be hot-button issues in Congress and offer opportunities for politicians to build strong campaign platforms.
Either gender can debate education, fiscal policy, immigration, and health care on an equal footing —but when it comes to issues such as abortion, women have inherently been a voice of authority. According to Gallup, 60 percent of female voters in 12 key states rated birth control as an extremely/very important influence on whom they’d be casting their vote for in the 2012 election cycle; 39 percent of men felt the same. In those same states, 39 percent of women rated abortion as the most important issue. For men, abortion did not rank within their top 10 most pressing issues.
There are groups attempting to combat the imbalance of funding and political support. The nonpartisan Women’s Campaign Fund has endorsed 69 women candidates currently serving in federal office, and helps local and state candidates as well. The WCF has a PAC that aims to help female candidates who “support…reproductive health choices for all, regardless of political party.” Currently the WCF endorses only one Republican, Maine Senator Susan Collins.
The League of Women Voters has endorsed attempts to lower contribution limits for PACs and reduce Super PAC influence. To quote the January 2013 letter entitled, “OPPOSE EFFORTS TO RESTORE PARTY SOFT MONEY SYSTEM OR INCREASE PARTY CONTRIBUTION LIMITS”, sponsored by The League of Women Voters and 8 other organizations, “We strongly urge [senators] to oppose any efforts to increase or repeal the limits on contributions to parties and thereby increase the ability of federal officeholders to sell and donors to buy influence over government decisions.”
Their efforts ask for a more level playing field, but the letter co-signers have conventionally given favor to Democratic candidates and platform issues. Women are being held back from political opportunity because men get funded more than women.
The gender gap grows and the party divide widens.
The Pew Research Center released an analysis of partisan polarization analyzing major trends over the past 25 years. Pew stated that 59 percent of Democrats are women, where as 50 percent of Republicans are women. Women tend to be Democrats, and with partisan differences in political views increasing steadily over the past 6 years, the spike may have allowed more women to enter the political arena as Democrats. When these women focus on party politics, campaign support comes more naturally from PACs and Super PACs looking to progress their own ideological agenda.
Super PACs aren’t the only political financiers hurting women’s chances of entering Congress. Traditional PACs—which have contribution limits—historically give less to female candidates than to men. Both a party issue and gender issue, women are depending on more old-fashioned means of campaign funding—seeking donations from individuals. A typical example comes from the 2012 Senate race in Massachusetts: Former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) received 10 percent from PACs in 2012 which trumped the 2 percent Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received. In this case, however, Senator Warren raised $42 million total against Senator Brown’s $28 million. Both received plenty of funding from out-of-state donors.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced “The Democracy is for People Amendment” on March 12th, 2013. The new bill seeks to amend the Constitution and ban corporate spending in elections. Regarding the court decision and its effect on billionaires, Sanders said in a statement: “ ‘Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed.”
So, what impact has unlimited contributions had for hopeful and incumbent female politicians? The answer is almost simple—women historically do not have corporate support, perhaps due to their platforms, perhaps due to gender bias. More wealthy men donate their wealth to the GOP, where women are scarce. As the battle for campaign reform continues, one aspect remains certain: it’s all just partisan politics as usual.