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Monetary Oppression

Why Bundling Reform Would Disproportionately Affect Female Candidates

Christina Carr

on 21 April 2010

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Transcript of Monetary Oppression

Introduction Females are drastically underrepresented in elected offices. Though campaign finance reform can be heralded as a way of leveling
the playing field between candidates, bundling reforms may
inadvertently harm female candidates. Proposed reforms must be critically examined in order
to ensure that they will not serve to further disclude
females in the political realm. The Bundling Loophole Campaign finance law is governed by the Federal Election Campaign Finance Act, or FECA. FECA sets per-election limits on contributions by both individuals and Political Action Committees (PACs) during an election cycle. Under FECA, PACs may not contribute more than $5,000 to any one candidate during any federal election. In Buckley v. Valeo, the Court emphasized the importance of contribution limits, but not a general cap on overall campaign expenditures. This distinction served as a catalyst for escalating campaign costs, and resulted in an explosion of the number of PACs, which are allowed a greater contribution limit than individuals. However, one FECA provision allows for a loophole to the limits on
PAC contributions that has encouraged a practice known as "bundling." PACs are able to collect donations from inividual donors and "bundle" them together in order to donate the collective sum to a candidate. So long as the PAC doesn't exercise "direction or control" over the individual donor's choice of recipient candidate, the amount raised does not count against the PAC's contribution limit to the candidate. "Direction and Control" are not clearly defined within FECA,
and few cases have shed light on the matter. However, in
Federal Election Commission v. National Republican Senatorial Committee,
the court held that there was no direction or control where a national party
heped a small, defined number of candidates. This decision further opened the door
for PACs to utilize bundling methods to fundraise for candidates without being subject to
campaign contribution limits. Because "direction and control" is so loosely defined, bundling is often criticized as a mere loophole that allows PACS to exercise unfair political influence by choosing which group of candidates to endorse, and then soliciting their members for contributions to those candidates. Congress has considered legislation prohibiting bundling three times since 1992, but failed to garner the necessary support. Why are Female Candidates Different? The Historical Lack of Female Representation The Fundraising Challenges of Female Candidates Most female representatives elected to Congress
before the 1960s were due to so-called "widow's succession." Though the number of females elected to Congress on their own merit
has increased since that time, female representation is still
drastically disproportionate
Until 1992, the U.S. Senate never had more than
three women serving at any one time. Today, 83% of Congress is male, while only 17% is female. Most female candidates are challenger candidates, which gives them a distinct disadvantage both at the polls and in fundraising quests. Challenger races are usually the lowest funding priority for national parties. Additionally, the advantages that flow from incumbency- name recognition, majority party representation, existent donor networks, etc.- can result in an even greater financial disparity. In order to compete, challenger candidates must garner large sums of money from donors. One study by Gary W. Copeland demonstrated the financial disparity between incumbents and challengers.
In 1998:
The average House challenger spent $300,000. The predicted vote total at that amount of spending was only 39.1%
A House challenger would have had to spend more than $800,000 for the predictive total to have amounted to more than 50%. Studies have also suggested that female candidates tend to have more difficulty fundraising SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE FEMALE. In 2008, male House incumbents raised on average
$196,281 more than female House incumbents. That same year, the average contribution received by female candidates was $967, versus $1,051 for men. Of the few women that did enjoy the advantages of incumbency in 2008, the top three raised approximately $33 million combined- $16 million less than the total for the top three male incumbents. EMILY's List: How Women's PACs have tackled fundraising issues EMILY's List is a non-lobbying PAC whose purpose is to identify viable
pro-choice female Democratic candidates for key federal
and state political office. Once candidates are identified, EMILY's list supports them in three ways:
Raising campaign contributions
Building strong campaigns
Mobilizing female voters The name EMILY's List is an acronym for "Early Money is Like Yeast,"
from the saying "Early money is like yeast- it helps the dough rise," a tribute to the fundraising convention that receiving large amounts of early donations helps scare off challengers and attract later donors. EMILY's List pioneered a new type of fundraising for female candidates: a donor network that provides members with information about selected candidates, and encourages them to write checks directly to the candidates they chose. During the 2000 election cycle, 68,000 members of EMILY's List contributed nearly $32 million, helping to bring four new Democratic women to the Senate, and four to the House. During the 2008 election, EMILY's List raised more than $43 million and helped elect 12 new women to the House- the second highest increase in history- and 2 new women to the Senate, along with the first female governor of North Carolina. Female candidates have also benefitted from a variety of similar women's PACs, including Susan B. Anthony List and WISH List. Why Will Bundling Reform Disproportionately Affect Female Candidates? Bundling changes would disproportionately affect challenger candidates. Challenger candidates have a more difficult time fundraising, and often rely on PAC contributions to jump-start their funds. Secondly, to limit the potential sources of female candidates' funding means what is already a dire funding struggle for women would likely become even more so. Female candidates rely heavily on women's PAs for funding. Gubernatorial candidates and local and state candidates also rely heavily on PACs for early funding. Placing limitations on this resource would severely impact the viability of these campaigns. Limiting the number of female representatives that are able to enter the political realm at these lower levels will almost certainly have the effect of limiting the number of females that are able to achieve higher office. PACs also play an important role in providing women with early money for nomination campaigns, which increases their potential for raising money in electoral campaigns, therefore increasing their numbers in elected seats. PACs such as EMILY's List have been heralded as "one of the most successful [methods] for providing women. . . with early money." Should these resources be eliminated, female candidates will need to seek out other resources to provide the early money that is critical in establishing candidate legitimacy and attracting other donors, a process that could prove difficult at best. Could effective reform be achieved through another means,
with less detriment to female candidates? Proposed Limitations on Bundling Reforms Women's PACs argue that they should be exempt from legislation restricting bundling because they are non-lobbying PACS, which means they do not expect anything from candidates in exchange for contributions. Once these candidates are elected, the PACs do not lobby the elected official. On the contrary, these groups claim that their sole purpose is to help "open up" the political system. Some argue that allowing such an exemption would simply cause most lobbying PACs to reorganize to qualify as non-lobbying PACs, and would have little effect on the current reality of campaign financing.

Instead of lobbying elected officials to vote in accordance with the PAC's agenda, these PACs could shift their focus toward electing candidates that have explicitly expressed views in accordance with that agenda. Candidates seeking PAC support would then tailor their campaign statements to garner that support. However, this would prevent these organizations from doing anything to influence the voting of already-elected officials, an outcome that seems unlikely given the high interest these groups tend to have in the outcome of these votes. Passing bundling reform without an exemption for non-lobbying PACs would render female candidates stripped of one of the few financial advantages they have managed to procure. The Public Financing Option In a footnote in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court advised, "Congress may engage in public financing of elections and may condition acceptance of public funds on an agreement by the candidate to abide by specified expenditure limitations. Just as a candidate may voluntarily limit the size of the contributions he chooses to accept, he may decide to forego public fundraising and accept public funding." Public funding of campaigns would serve the goal of evening the playing field between candidates in a way that would not disadvantage any one group of candidates. Each qualifying candidate would receive the same level of benefits, regardless of gender, race, or other intrinsic characteristics. The more aggressive and comprehensive the level of public funding, the less candidates will need to rely on outside donor networks. Broad public funding of campaigns would likely take the greatest strides in addressing the fundraising disadvantages that have plagued female candidates. Studies have found that compared to traditionally funded candidates, those that accept full public subsidies spend less time raising money. That opportunity cost is recaptured via higher aounts of time spent directly engaged in the public solicitation of votes. This effect has contributed to diminished incumbent advantage. The result is an election decided not by who fundraises the most money, but by who garners the greatest number of votes. Public funding plans vary greatly. Though full public funding is probably unrealistic given our current political climate, public funding of campaigns on some intermediate level could help level the playing field between all candidates. Conclusion The major goal of campaign finance reform proposals seems to be to increase the competitiveness and fairness of elections by attempting to level the playing field for all candidates. Unfortunately, most proposals do too little to level the playing field between male and female candidates. Any comprehensive and responsible plan for campaign finance reform should take measures to ensure that this issue is addressed, allowing those who have been traditionally excluded from the political world to finally gain ground in this arena. Banning or severely restricting bundling practices would have a detrimental effect on female candidates, and thus it would be irresponsible to pass such reform. If bundling practices are ripe for reform, it should be reform that takes into consideration the plight of female candidates by creating exemptions for non-lobbying PACs. Alternatively, a public funding scheme would not only address the goals of campaign finance reform, but it would do so in such a way that truly levels the playing field between male and female candidates, at least within its scope. Any reform scheme that does not take measures to equalize opportunity between male and female candidates is insufficient and irresponsible, and should be recognized as such.
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