Money in Politics with a Gender Lens

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Money in Politics with a Gender Lens

Executive Summary



The role of money in political campaigns has grown significantly in the last 20 years and has drastically altered the landscape for campaigns, elections, and political participation. The cost of winning a congressional election has nearly doubled in 2012 dollars,[1] with the average cost of winning a U.S. House seat at $1.6 million, while a successful U.S. Senate bid averages $10.35 million. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision, which allowed for unlimited spending by outside groups on election campaigns, has led to the proliferation of groups such as “Super PACs” and a significant rise in overall campaign spending. Each election cycle offers opportunities to analyze and better understand the potential short- and long-term effects of this decision. This report focuses on one dimension of the new monetary environment: gender.

"Money in Politics with a Gender Lens" is the first attempt to explore the effects of the Citizens United decision by looking specifically at how women fared as candidates and acted as donors in elections held after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010. The report compares data from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 federal election campaigns; not only does this approach offer a “before and after” snapshot of the monetary environment of campaigns for men and women, but it also establishes a strong baseline of analysis for future explorations.

Highlights from the report include:

Who Gives Money? Campaign Donors and Gender

  • Women remain significantly underrepresented among campaign “mega-donors,” including top overall donors and top donors to Super PACs.
  • Male donors outnumber and outspend female donors in reported political giving ($200 and over). Though the gender gap in political giving is significant at every level of giving, men make up an even greater proportion of donors at the highest levels (above $95,000).
  • More men than women donate to outside groups. This gender gap closed slightly from 2010 to 2012, as overall outside group donations increased dramatically.[2]

  • In both 2010 and 2012, men focused a greater proportion of their political giving on outside groups (versus individual candidates, party committees, and other political entities) than did women.

Who Gets Money? Campaign Receipts, Expenditures, and Gender

  • Candidate gender was not a significant predictor of outside spending for or against congressional candidates in 2010 or 2012 independent of other factors, but there is limited evidence showing that gender does interact with variables like candidate status (incumbent, challenger, open seat) and party to influence the amount of Super PAC money spent in support of a particular candidate.[3]

  • It does not appear from these initial analyses that greater Super PAC spending will disparately reach men or women candidates, but further research is necessary after additional electoral cycles and with deeper analysis of the spending data and effects (beyond total and proportional spending).
  • Women candidates appear more likely than men to support and participate in statewide public financing systems at the state legislative level, suggesting that public financing may be a particular incentive for women running for office. However, analyses of candidate and representation data do not show strong effects of public financing on women’s candidate emergence or representation.

Who Cares? The Impact of Campaign Money on Citizens in Our Democracy

  • Men and women are equally opposed to increased campaign spending, particularly by outside organizations, based on recent public opinion polls.

Further research is needed to fully understand the gender dynamics of campaign fundraising and spending in a postCitizens United context. Future research questions could include, but are not limited to:

  • How do women at the “mega-donor” level differ from men in their spending priorities?  More specifically, do the women who donate the most show any preference for women candidates and/or “women’s issues,” often defined as issues with the greatest or most direct impact on women and children?
  • What is the presence and role of women donors at the lowest levels (under $200)?  Additional gender data among the smallest donors would help to affirm or clarify if gender differences (in presence and giving totals) among donors are reduced at the lower levels of giving, as Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and American National Election Studies (ANES) reports indicate.
  • Do men and women benefit from different types of Super PACs? And how does outside / Super PAC spending influence men and women candidates’ chances of electoral success? Understanding the effects of outside spending necessitates recognizing the diversity among the growing number of Super PACs, including their motivations, tactics, and strategies in spending decisions. In addition to looking at spending targets and totals, more research is needed to determine actual electoral effects of outside group / Super PAC involvement in federal campaigns.
  • Are women and/or women’s organizations adapting to this new campaign environment or advocating for campaign finance reform? As the power and influence of Super PACs grows, are women and/or women’s organizations creating and funding Super PACs of their own to remain competitive? Or are proposals for reforms such as public financing receiving greater support in this new monetary environment?
  • What is the potential policy impact of Citizens United, and how might it affect women? While this report focuses on the influence of Citizens United on political campaigns, more research is needed to determine whether, where, and how this decision might influence the post-election activities of candidates-turned-officeholders. More specifically with regard to gender, does Citizens United affect the ways in which so-called “women’s issues” are addressed, and degree to which they are prioritized, in Congress? And does the increased influence of outside spending shape policy debates and decisions on issues that uniquely affect women?



About this report

This report was made possible by funding from the Piper Fund, a Proteus Fund Initiative. It is a collaboration between:

Re:Gender works to end gender inequity and discrimination against girls and women by exposing root causes and advancing research-informed action. Our network, which connects research, policy, and practice, is comprised of national, state, and local-level cross-sector individuals and institutions. Institutions include cross-sector representation from academia, business, government, labor, philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations—such as social justice, cultural, health-related, and women's organizations. Individual members include advocates, change agents, policy thinkers, practitioners, public intellectuals, researchers, and other allies. We work with multiple sectors and disciplines to shape a world that demands fairness across difference.
The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is a university-based research, education, and public service center. Its mission is to promote greater knowledge and understanding about women’s changing relationship to politics and government and to enhance women’s influence and leadership in public life. CAWP is a leading authority in its field and a respected bridge between the academic and political worlds.
The Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. Nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit, the organization aims to create a more educated voter, an involved citizenry, and a more transparent and responsive government. In short, the center's mission is to: inform citizens about how money in politics affects their lives; empower voters and activists by providing unbiased information; and advocate for a transparent and responsive government. We pursue our mission largely through our award-winning website,, which is the most comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data, and analysis available anywhere. And for other organizations and news media, the center's exclusive data powers their online features tracking money in politics—counting cash to make change.
The report was researched and written by Kelly Dittmar, assistant research professor at the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politcs, Rutgers University. Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, contributed research, data, and analysis to the overall project. Gail Cooper, vice president for programs at Re:Gender was the project editor.
We would like to thank the Piper Fund, a Proteus Fund Initiative, for their funding support, including Marc Caplan, Piper Fund Senior Program officer, and Melissa Spatz, Piper Fund Program officer. Sincere appreciation goes also to Hildy Karp and Nancy Meyer, for their feedback during ongoing development of the report. In addition, several groups and individuals contributed research and expertise, participated in meetings, and reviewed drafts. They include: Susan Anderson, senior program advisor, Public Campaign; Denise Roth Barber, managing director, Follow the Money; Pamela Behrsin, vice president of communication, MapLight; J. Mijin Cha, senior policy analyst, Dēmos; Tam Doan, research director, Public Campaign; Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs, Common Cause; Jennifer Merolla, associate professor, Claremont Graduate University; Rosalba M. Messina, interim executive director, Third Wave Foundation; Nicholas Nyhart, president and CEO, Public Campaign; Susan Scanlan, president, Women’s Research & Education Institute; Jean Schroedel, professor, Claremont Graduate University; Eleanor Smeal, president, Feminist Majority Foundation; Rye Young, interim program officer, Third Wave Foundation; and Shauné Zunzanyika, program director, Women’s Funding Network
© January 2014

[1]In nominal dollars, the cost of winning has nearly tripled.

[2] For the purposes of this report, “outside groups” are defined as organizations that can receive unlimited funds for the purposes of making independent expenditures or electioneering communications. These include Super PACs, 501(c)4 organizations voluntarily disclosing their donors, or 527s reporting donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Party committees and traditional PACs that make independent expenditures are excluded from this measure as they are not able to receive unlimited funds.

[3] For the purposes of this report, “outside spending” refers to spending by outside groups, as defined in footnote 2.