Where Women Win in Washington

Men still dominate politics, government, and lobbying, but in fundraising, women play on level turf.

NEW YORK - MARCH 28: President of EMILY's list Stephanie Schriock attend Women In Politics Panel With Chelsea Clinton hosted by Glamour magazine at 92nd Street Y on March 28, 2012 in New York City.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
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Elahe Izadi
Nov. 11, 2013, 3:14 p.m.

Ann Her­ber­ger had designs on be­com­ing “a great Broad­way act­ress.” That’s be­fore she ended up in Wash­ing­ton in the 1980s, and un­der the tu­tel­age of an ac­com­plished fe­male fun­draiser.

Now based in Miami, she raises cash full-time for prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­ans — not­ably the Bush fam­ily — and loves her job as a pro­fes­sion­al fun­draiser. “They’re the most power­ful people that nobody knows,” she says.

It’s a com­mon tale. While men still dom­in­ate top jobs in polit­ics, gov­ern­ment, and lob­by­ing, pro­fes­sion­al fun­drais­ing rep­res­ents an arena in which wo­men play on level turf. Many cam­paign op­er­at­ives, lob­by­ists, and fun­draisers say fe­male fin­ance dir­ect­ors and fun­draisers are at least at par­ity with men, and may well out­num­ber them. Some even say that if there’s only one wo­man in the room, she’s likely to be the fun­draiser.

“It’s a unique place wo­men seem to own,” says Kirsten Bor­man, a na­tion­al GOP fun­draiser. “Wo­men get a lot more re­spect and are more eas­ily al­lowed at the table in this in­dustry. There is no boys club in fun­drais­ing. But make no mis­take, it’s still in­cred­ibly com­pet­it­ive.”

While wo­men ac­count for al­most 51 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, they make up roughly 18 per­cent of the cur­rent Con­gress — and that’s a re­cord high. Wo­men oc­cu­pied only one-third of the top con­gres­sion­al-aide jobs in 2011, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tion­al Journ­al sur­vey; about 40 per­cent of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s top second-term posts; and just 35 per­cent of re­gistered lob­by­ists in 2012, ac­cord­ing to a Le­giS­torm ana­lys­is.

Be­cause fun­draisers are not re­quired to re­gister, there are no pre­cise stat­ist­ics track­ing gender. But those that do ex­ist point to a field largely pop­u­lated by wo­men. Wo­men dom­in­ate fun­drais­ing in the non­profit and phil­an­throp­ic world, and ac­count for 74 per­cent of the mem­ber­ship in the As­so­ci­ation of Fun­drais­ing Pro­fes­sion­als, ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“I don’t think there’s a glass ceil­ing at all for wo­men [in fun­drais­ing],” says Molly Al­len, who owns a con­sult­ing firm and raises money for House Demo­crats. While not­ing there are also prom­in­ent and ef­fect­ive male fun­draisers, she adds, “I’ve nev­er felt that I missed out on a cli­ent op­por­tun­ity be­cause I was a wo­man…. I guess it’s just be­cause we’ve proven ourselves to be equally suc­cess­ful, and con­tin­ue to do so.”

Rarely does any­one, man or wo­man, dream of be­ing a polit­ic­al fun­draiser when they grow up. A num­ber of wo­men say their entry in­to the field was co­in­cid­ence more than any­thing. But that has turned in­to an ad­vant­age, as the role of money in polit­ics has grown ex­po­nen­tially.

“It was al­ways the job nobody wanted on cam­paigns when I star­ted,” says one Re­pub­lic­an fun­draiser who’s been in the busi­ness for dec­ades and raises cash for statewide can­did­ates. “The po­s­i­tion [of fin­ance dir­ect­or] has grown in im­port­ance. The smart cam­paigns have al­ways real­ized the im­port­ance of money, but it’s al­ways been a back-burn­er thing in most cases.”

An­oth­er long­time Demo­crat­ic fe­male fun­draiser fell in­to it after “nobody wanted to do it.” But she quickly took to the job. “I got to do a lot more fun things than every­body else,” she says. “You also get more time with the can­did­ate than any­body else. Every­one wants to do field [work], but the field staff doesn’t get much time with the can­did­ate.”

The job ap­peals to many wo­men be­cause of the flex­ib­il­ity to work from home and be able to take breaks between cam­paigns without be­ing pen­al­ized. Suc­cess as a fun­draiser is also ob­ject­ive: You either raise your tar­get amount or you don’t.

“It’s a field dom­in­ated by black-or-white res­ults: Did you make your goal or didn’t you?” Her­ber­ger says. “That’s all that mat­ters.”

Show­ing savvy as a fun­draiser can lay the ground­work for oth­er polit­ic­al ca­reers, too. Stephanie Schriock led Howard Dean’s 2004 fun­drais­ing, an op­er­a­tion that helped change the way cam­paigns raise cash in pres­id­en­tial cycles. She went on to man­age cam­paigns for Demo­crat­ic Sens. Jon Test­er of Montana and Al Franken of Min­nesota. Now, Schriock leads EMILY’s List, which raises money for fe­male Demo­crats who sup­port abor­tion rights.

“I def­in­itely, over the years, have seen a lot of wo­men start in fun­drais­ing and move on to oth­er activ­it­ies in cam­paigns and polit­ics,” she says. “Wo­men really do a great job at the sort of de­tail-ori­ented­ness fol­lowed by re­la­tion­ship build­ing that is really im­port­ant in fun­drais­ing. At EMILY’s List, we ar­gue it’s the same abil­ity to re­la­tion­ship-build that is a good reas­on you should run for of­fice.”

Al­though wo­men see few gender bar­ri­ers to be­com­ing prom­in­ent fun­draisers, wo­men donors still lag be­hind men. In the 2011-12 cycle, far more men than wo­men con­trib­uted money to fed­er­al polit­ics, in­clud­ing can­did­ates, parties, and PACs; two-thirds of such dona­tions came from men, com­pared with one-third that came from wo­men, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

That’s something GOP fun­draiser Lisa Spies, who led Wo­men for Rom­ney last year, wants to change. Dur­ing the 2012 cam­paign, their dir­ect­ive was to raise $10 mil­lion from wo­men, and they ended up rak­ing in $23 mil­lion.

“I had wo­men all over the coun­try tell me, “˜You know what? Nobody ever asks me,’ “ Spies says. “They call me and ask for my hus­band.”

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