Female Candidates Have Greatest Success in Open Seat Elections But Poorly Funded by PACs, Donors, and Major Parties

    Media Contact
  • David Vance
Strategic support of female candidates can address systemic disparity and increase women’s representation in Congress.

Representation2020, Common Cause and the Center for Responsive Politics have released a new report revealing the systemic disparity in funding for female candidates running for open seats by PACs, individual donors and major parties. Women are more likely to win open seat races than women challenging an incumbent. In addition, Republican women are likely to face additional barriers and increased opposition funding.

Despite high-profile wins in several states, women continue to occupy fewer than 20% of the 535 seats in Congress, and the total number of women declined.

The report highlights several deficits in funding, particularly for Republican women and women of color who are running for office. In 2014, only 13% of total donations from top Republican donors went to support Republican female candidates. In the same year, candidates who were women of color received less, on average, than other female candidates from donors giving more than $200. Additionally, Republican women face more negative ads from outside spending groups than other candidates. Fully 88% of all money spent by super PACs and politically active nonprofits on ads naming Republican women was spent opposing them.

“Open seats races are nearly always the place for women to make gains, and that’s exactly where women are losing out,” says Cynthia Terrell, director of Representation2020. “The best way to change an unfair system is to change the rules and incentives that govern that system; Short-term, we need big donors to give women candidates a level playing field. Longer-term, we need reforms that create more opportunities for women candidates.”

PACs, including membership PACs and leadership PACs, tend to underfund women running for open seats. PACs direct around 18% of their open seat funds to women, though women account for around a third of candidates running in open seat races.

“All membership PACs, particularly those that have given less support to women candidates, should have access to this information,” says Shelia Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “This empowers PACs to make data-driven decisions that honor not just their legislative agendas, but also the values and goals of their organizations and members.”

“Money follows incumbents, but even when the seats are open, money from PACs flows overwhelmingly to male candidates,” said Jenny Flanagan, Common Cause Vice President of State Operations. “Reversing this trend would give us a congress that looks more like the America it represents.”

This collaborative analysis includes key recommendations for funders to help level the playing field for women candidates across the country. Recommendations include increasing funding to female candidates, setting targets for funding of female candidates, and expanding consultation with organizations that recruit and train candidates to build a stronger pool of candidates.

See More: Money & Influence