"Ellen Malcolm, President, EMILY's List"May/June 1997 issue of Poverty & Race
Jamin Raskin and I agree that the best prescription for the current campaign finance system is public financing. Though I believe that federal campaigns will ultimately be funded publicly, that isn't going to happen soon. The Republican majority in Congress is adamantly opposed to most campaign finance reform, especially public financing; Senate Majority Leader Trent Loft is often quoted as calling public financing "food stamps for politicians."
The challenge for EMILY's List and other groups working on behalf of nontraditional candidates is to be effective in the current system or in a future "reformed" system that is not publicly financed.
Raskin correctly points out the critical problem for women and minority candidates is that they rarely receive support from traditional political funders. Any partial reform that does not replace private contributions with public funds will always be dominated by special interest money. After all, economic interests have tremendous incentive and ability to participate in the election system.
The key to electing women and minorities is to encourage the participation of small contributors, the foundation of nontraditional candidates' campaigns. EMILY's List has done that by creating a donor network.
Our members pay $100 to join EMILY's List and agree to contribute $100 or more to two candidates during a two-year election cycle. We send our members profiles of pro-choice Democratic women who are running viable campaigns for House,
Senate and governor. The members decide whom to support and write checks directly to the candidates. EMILY's List gathers the contributions and sends them on to the campaigns.
A case study of how our small donor network can be effective can be seen in the 1992 campaign of Eva Clayton in North Carolina's 1st Congressional district. Clayton was a county commissioner running in a newly created, majority African-American district that took up 27 counties in the northeastern part of the state. Her own county had a population of 9,000. The frontrunner was the son of the congressman who had held the seat for 35 years. Clayton had the experience and a grassroots network. What she didn't have was support from the traditional political donors in North Carolina or Washington, D.C.
EMILY's List recommended Clayton to our members and raised more than $30,000 from contributorsacross the country, most of whom would never have heard of her candidacy. She won her primary and beat the congressman's son in a runoff. She was elected president of the 1992 Democratic congressional class, the first woman and first African-American ever to hold that position.
Since real, fundamental reform does not seem to be a current option, we must hope that partial reform will work. However, we have compelling evidence that partial reform does not work at all for women.
EMILY's List was formed in 1985, a decade after the last major Common Cause-backed reform had gone into effect. In ten years that reform had not helped women. In fact, the number of women in the House had actually declined from 14 to 12, and not one Democratic woman had been elected to the Senate.
In the last six elections, EMILY's List has helped to elect 42 women to the House and six women to the Senate. We have raised more than $2 million for the elections of women of color, helping to elect 15 women of color to the House and the first African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun.
EMILY's List is reform that opens the system for women. Until we can get a fundamental change through public financing, we will fight long and hard to protect the donor network option that brings small contributors into the system, making it possible for nontraditional candidates to win.
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