Positioning Women to Win (2006)

Chronic Challenges: Access to Financial Circles Still Limited

Women candidates still report being excluded from financial circles that include the wealthiest and best-connected donors. These circles are often based around corporate associations and specific industries. Rarely do these companies include many women as executives or board members. As a result, there were few women to make introductions and open doors.

One consultant noted that “many businesspeople have a tendency to be gray-haired suits – a number of them don’t even have women on their boards. Or if they do, it’s a token woman. The fact that [the candidate] was a female was not easy for them to accept. She wasn’t one of them.”

Incumbent governors with a high likelihood of re-election – an advantage enjoyed by four of five women running in 2006 – had no problem winning strong business and financial circle support. Those interviewed believed that wealthy business donors decided to whom and how much to give as much by risk aversion as by any evaluation of the candidate’s policies. Who will win? Who will maintain the status quo? That was their real calculation.

This calculation trumped other considerations, including party loyalty. The largely Republican business community of Alaska initially contributed to former Democratic Governor Tony Knowles instead of the upstart Republican nominee Sarah Palin because they knew him, didn’t know her and didn’t believe she could win – despite the fact that she defeated a sitting governor in her primary.

In Michigan, incumbent Jennifer Granholm split business community contributions with Republican challenger Dick DeVos because “he was one of them,” although her prospects for success improved steadily over the course of the campaign.

In Illinois, Judy Baar Topinka never consolidated Republican business support because they didn’t think she could beat the incumbent Democrat and because she wasn’t “one of the suits.”

As one non-incumbent candidate noted, “As a woman, I’ve been pretty successful…raising money, but you still don’t have access to the boys and this is very much a boy kind of state…it takes more effort to get that access.”

Another financial challenge for non-incumbent candidates was cash flow and its impact on the race. Several non-incumbent campaigns were out of money following hard-fought primaries and never managed to catch up. Ordinarily, base constituency groups – labor, business, teachers, law enforcement, environmental groups – would step in following a bruising primary with an infusion of cash to jump-start a general election campaign, but this did not happen for the women.

Despite the fact that several of these candidates had held high office in their states – Senate Minority Leader, Lt. Governor, Treasurer – many of them simply did not have the close working relationships with these constituency groups that might have prompted them to jump in as big contributors. Absent any close ties to the candidate, groups had the freedom to “wait and see” whether the woman nominee would prove a good investment risk. Ironically, the longer they waited, the less likely the candidate was to succeed.

In addition, neither major political party was hospitable to outsider candidates who beat establishment candidates in a primary. In one race, the party put resources into state legislative contests instead. In two other races, state Republican and Democratic parties sat on the sidelines instead of getting behind women gubernatorial candidates until it was too late to make a difference – and then made only a token effort.

“They [the party] worked against us in the primary. And in the general, there were so many hurt feelings and hard feelings and whatnot. I think one of the key people in the party… quit the party rather than help (the candidate) in the general,” said one consultant.

For Candidates

  1. Show Me The Money. Before you can even think about running for governor, you must know the financial centers of your state and your party’s major donors. Reintroduce yourself and your accomplishments to them. Develop a network of women within key financial circles and ask for their help gaining entry. Before you declare for governor, you must lock down substantial financial support.
  2. Identify The 10 Largest Independent Expenditures Made In Your State’s Last Election. In all likelihood, these committees are among the largest contributors as well. Identify their political directors and PAC Chairs. Invite them to lunch. Stay in touch.
  3. Develop Working Relationships With Activist Organizations. Work with three statewide, membership-based organizations on issues of mutual concern. Nurses, carpenters, chiropractors, lawyers, doctors – you get the picture. They will be there when your well runs dry.
  4. Build A Finance Network. Assemble a dozen veteran fundraisers, meet with them regularly and make them a part of your permanent political operation.
  5. Expand Your Reach. Identify the 25 individuals who raise the most for your Party’s nominees and develop a strategy for introducing yourself to them – directly, through friends, at Party events, etc. Identify those women’s organizations that provide financial support to women candidates and meet with their political directors, enlist their early support and stay in touch with them. The Republican and Democratic Governors Associations can also work with you to identify potential financial resources.