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Why Do Women Dominate Political Fundraising?

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A sign points the way to a polling place in San Francisco. (Alan Toth/KQED)

It’s shaping up to be a pricey election cycle in California, maybe the most expensive ever. And politicians at all levels are trying to tap into the state’s deep-pocketed donors. Raising money for all those campaigns is a full-time job -- and it’s a job done largely by women.

The woman in charge of fundraising for the California Democratic Party is Angie Tate. She is often credited with raising a multimillion-dollar war chest for Gov. Jerry Brown, although she insists the governor did most of the work. That attitude is at the core of Tate’s take on fundraising.

"Being humble when you’re raising money is super important," she says. "Because it’s not about you, it’s about the candidate you’re moving forward. It’s about what the donor’s needs are. It’s not about thinking about yourself."

And Tate thinks that’s why women have been so successful at political fundraising. While exact numbers are difficult to come by, those in the field say women make up the majority of the profession. Democratic political consultant Rose Kapolczynski managed all four of Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate campaigns. She says that 30 years ago, women were kept out of strategic positions.

"So women who wanted to be involved in political campaigns professionally became field organizers or fundraisers," she says.

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Unlike most other political professions, Kapolczynski says women now dominate the fundraising field.

"Fundraising is one of the toughest and most important jobs in the campaign," she says. "Without a successful fundraising operation, nothing else exists."

But while women are working hard to raise the money, many say the decisions on how to spend it are still largely left up to men. Kelly Dittmar is a scholar with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

“The fundraisers, typically, don’t play very much of a strategic role," she says.

And Dittmar says the lack of women making campaign decisions can come at the expense of the candidate.

“You have to both understand the gender dynamics that are at play for candidates, women and men," she says, "and you have to understand how to speak to all voters, including over 50 percent of the population, which is women voters."

Tate says she does get a say in how money is spent, which she says can help make sure it’s not wasted.

"Money is really hard to raise, and I have seen money spent quickly and easily in ways that don’t seem smart if you were the one scratching every dollar together," she says.

But not everyone is concerned with having more say on how the money is spent. Molly Parnell is founder of Golden State Strategy Group, a Republican fundraising firm.

“I like the strategy of figuring out how to fund efforts. And there’s people who like the strategy of figuring out to spend resources," she says. "And I like the side of the equations that I’m on."

More information on women fundraisers, Republican and Democrat, may soon be available.

The newly formed National Association of Political Fundraisers will be collecting data on the profession and developing a code of ethics for how all fundraisers -- women and men -- should operate.

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