State of Money in Politics: Female donors gaining influence as 2020 kicks off

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This is the final story in a four-part series analyzing money-in-politics trends from the 2018 midterms that will continue to have an impact on 2020 and future elections. CRP Executive Director Sheila Krumholz presented trends and figures from this series and other articles to the FEC on Feb. 21. Watch here.

If money is speech, women spoke loudly in 2018.

As 2018 was the most expensive midterm by a large margin, female donors gave more than $1.1 billion towards the ‘Year of the Woman’ election.

For the first time ever, women gave more to female Democratic candidates ($184 million) than to male Republican candidates ($106 million) among itemized contributions exceeding $200. From 2010 until the 2018 cycle, female donors gave the most to Republican men. While Democratic men outraised all others among female donors in 2018, just four percent of the contributions from women went to Republican women this cycle.

Although women are increasingly inching toward gender parity in Congress, the gender gap among donors is still strong. Women made up 37 percent of all individuals that made itemized contributions above $200 in 2018. All told, women contributed 29 percent of all the itemized congressional contributions given in 2018.

Though not a meteoric rise, women are steadily gaining influence among political donors. Even in the most expensive midterm cycle ever, women made up 37 percent of contributions above $200, a substantial leap from 28 percent in 2014.

The 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision and subsequent rulings that expanded the influence of billionaire megadonors have not significantly impacted the number of women who show up among the top overall contributors. Of the top 100 contributors in 2018, 20 were women; that’s slightly less than the 21 in 1990.

The top female donors lean toward the left with their donations, to both candidates and outside spending groups. Thirteen women on the top individual contributors list gave the majority of their contributions to democratic or liberal recipients, while only seven gave to Republican or conservative recipients.

Of the top ten individual contributors (totaling $427 million), one woman — Miriam Adelson — makes the list with her husband, GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.

Where are the women?

Despite being the only state to have never sent a woman to Congress, Vermont had the highest percentage of female donors at 46 percent, with Oregon and New Mexico trailing close behind at 44 percent.

Women comprised 34 percent of the donor base in Nevada, the first state to reach gender parity in their state and federal legislators. Mississippi comes in dead last with less than 28 percent and is among the six states that had no female donors contribute more than $100,000 this cycle.

These figures are a more accurate measure of how active women are as political donors by state rather than looking at the percentage of all contributions from women, which is easily swayed by megadonors and soft money contributions.

Will women determine the Democratic nominee in 2020?

President Donald Trump won in 2016 despite collecting less than 29 percent of his contributions from women. He defeated Hillary Clinton, who took in 52 percent of her itemized contributions from women.

However, 2016 was not the banner year for female donors, or candidates, that 2018 was. Giving more money than ever, female donors will likely have a huge impact on the 2020 presidential election — and specifically in the Democratic primary that features several prominent female candidates.

Of the 2020 hopefuls, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had the highest percentage of 2018 itemized contributions coming from female donors with nearly 55 percent.

Also up for reelection in 2018, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was second with nearly 51 percent and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was third — 47 percent. Despite not being up for reelection in 2018, from 2013-2018 Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) got 46 percent of her funds raised during that period from women.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took in 41 percent of his itemized contributions from women during his presidential run in 2016. At only a 32 percent rate among female donors in 2018, things don’t look as good for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) but he did get more than half of contributions from $200 to $499 from women. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) gets less than 31 percent.

Former Vice President Joe Biden got only 30 percent of his money from women during his short-lived 2008 primary run, significantly less than Clinton’s 51 percent. With the rising influence of women likely to continue come 2020, Biden might have to increase his influence among female donors if he pursues the nomination.

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