Women aren’t just making history as marquee candidates this presidential cycle. According to a new study, they are also leaving a mark behind-the-scenes in the male-dominated world of political giving.
The study, released Tuesday by the Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation, found that women have given $109 million to presidential candidates in checks of $200 or more – triple the amount female donors delivered in 2000, with still two months to go in the race.
Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton received a major portion of the cash. Women donated about $60 million to her presidential campaign, about half of the New York senator’s total donations of more than $200.
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But the presence of the first viable female presidential candidate was just one motivating factor, according to the study and a survey done by the foundation.
The expanded use of the Internet to generate donations fits neatly with the way women evaluate and respond to political appeals , said Ilana Goldman, the foundation’s president.
“Women want to build a relationship and learn something about a candidate,” said Goldman. “Before the Internet, that took a lot more time and was a lot more expensive.”
Internet donations are generally small, the majority of which are often below the $200 threshold for publicly reporting a donor’s name. But if the larger donor base is any indication, female giving is also up in the online community – perhaps at even larger percentages.
Clinton’s campaign, for instance, reports that it received an additional $60 million in small donations from women, bringing the total amount of female contributions to her campaign to $120 million, the study found.
Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s aggressive online fundraising operation also has benefitted on both scales, drawing in thousands of big and small female givers. Women represent 47 percent of his disclosed donors. They’ve given about $75 million to his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Republican nominee John McCain’s primary campaign collected $34 million from female givers, who represented 28 percent of his donors, center records show.
McCain can’t raise more money for his presidential run since he accepted taxpayer money to finance his general election run. However, he is helping the Republican National Committee’s fundraising operation.
His selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate earlier this month is certain to boost donations from Republican women to help the ticket.
Overall, women political givers are still a minority, representing about 27 percent of all donors. That’s one reason the foundation decided to investigate ways to increase their participation.
“You cannot have the political power we’d like to see women have if they aren’t giving at comparable levels as men,” said Goldman.
A survey of female donors conducted by Celinda Lake, a Democratic polling expert, outlined five key motivators.
Women want to see how hard elected officials champion issues they care about. They also want to be inspired to give, rather than just asked to do so.
Female donors are also more inclined to conduct research before giving, often visiting candidate sites and other Internet sources before committing to writing a check.
Finally, these donors want to see how their money is spent and interact with a broader community of supporters.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, these donors are voracious readers and they are very big social networkers,” said Lake. Consequently, she said, a campaign that recruits one woman may often “get four or five of them.”