WASHINGTON, D.C. – When the pro-life group the Susan B Anthony List was first established in the early 1990s, its goal was to raise money for female candidates who supported their social views. As one of the first PACs to appeal socially conservative women candidates, the List had only one clear group to model themselves off of, an organization whose views were the exact opposite of theirs, pro-choice organization Emily’s List.
“It’s a compliment to them honestly. We emulate them but for an opposite goal. We emulate their political technology of electing candidates,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, which considers itself a non-partisan organization.
Today conservative leaning PACs like SBA’s have made large strides in establishing themselves as political players and they’ve gotten more support from the Republican party—at least in theory.
Following the 2012 elections the Republican Party released an “autopsy” report called the Growth and Opportunity Project which in detail pronounced the party’s renewed focus on helping women candidates in order to gain women voters.
But despite the changes, conservative women’s PACs still find themselves playing catch-up to the fundraising powerhouse that is Emily’s List.
Let’s look at the numbers.
So far for the 2014 cycle, Emily’s List’s national PAC, Women Vote!, has raised about $5.6 million.
The largest sum on the conservative side? SBA’s sister PAC, Women Speak Out, has raised about $1 million.
“Emily’s list, when it comes in it boosts candidates. It boosts them with party leadership and it boosts them to give them early money.” Kelly Dittmar, a research professor at the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), told DecodeDC earlier this summer. “There is not a similar entity that does the same thing with the same effectiveness on the republican side.”
Emily’s list was the first PAC of its kind dedicated entirely to electing women with a focus on supporting only pro-choice candidates. Since 1985, the group has established itself as the premiere example for raising money for women’s political campaigns. Emily’s List would not comment for the story.
Currently, there are many PACs registered with the goal of electing Republican or socially conservative women, like the National Federation of Republican Women, ShePAC and Women Lead. But the average amount of funds each of these PACs has raised for 2014 is in the tens of thousands.
Why are Republican women’s PACs lagging so far behind?
For one, experience. Emily’s List has almost a decade more of established experience than SBA List. And other top fundraising conservative women’s PACs have only been around a few years.
“We were formed in 2010—[Emily’s List] was formed in the early 80s,” said Missy Shorey, executive director at Maggie’s List, a PAC that supports fiscally conservative candidates. “But people really didn’t have an answer when it came to a [donating to the] conservative perspective. We’ve come a long way in four years.”
Then of course there’s the issue of fundraising.
Dittmar of Rutgers University says socially conservative-leaning women’s PACS find less support from the Republican Party when compared to those on the other side of the aisle.
“The Democrats believe they have more of an electoral commitment to go out to recruit women which will help get women voters,” she said. “On the Republican side I’m not sure if the leadership has quite got there in terms of electoral incentive.”
Despite the GOP’s self-proclaimed push to focus their efforts on women candidates, it doesn’t show through in the amount of money the PACs have raised.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, says it’s harder for conservative female candidates to raise campaign funds and amass the type of capital every successful candidate needs in order to have a chance at winning an election
Historically, fundraising has been a big issue for all women candidates. Incumbents often raise the most money, and most incumbents are male.
Women donors also only make up about 30 percent of the overall number of donors and they donate about 20 percent less than male donors, according to a recent study by Rutgers University and the Center for Responsive Politcs. That’s important because, according to the research, female donors tend to support female candidates and their PACs more than male donors.
What hurts conservative women’s PACs the most is the next bit of information: because most of the top female donors are Democrats, the women who do donate, more frequently support Democratic PACs rather than conservative PACS like Maggie’s List or SBA List.
Nevertheless, although they can’t yet claim to have the fundraising prowess of Emily’s List, many leaders of Republican PACs are hopeful that they are introducing a new perspective to their party.
By pushing women as the best type of candidate to talk about issues like abortion, the PACs believe they are proving that women candidates possess a unique quality and outlook that is needed to push the Republican Party ahead politically.
“I think many times [in the past], speaking as a Republican, women candidates have said ‘I am a woman who just happens to be a candidate.’ That was the perspective,” said Shorey of Maggie’s List. “But now femininity is being embraced—it is different. It is strong and millions of dollars are backing and enjoying female candidates. There is a realization that we bring something different to the table and we are here to celebrate that.”