WASHINGTON -- After the 2010 elections, the number of women in Congress dropped for the first time in more than 30 years. A new report shows that it was also was a weak cycle for political giving from women, which decreased when compared to the previous two election cycles.
In 2010, women's contributions made up just 26 percent of recorded federal political giving to candidates, political action committees (PACs) and political parties, according to a new study called "Vote with Your Purse" by the groups She Should Run and the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The amount fell from 31 percent in the 2008 cycle and 30 percent in the 2006 cycle.
"Money is essential in winning campaigns," said Sam Bennett, president and CEO of She Should Run, an organization devoted to encouraging more women to run for office. "If you don't give, you don't have a voice, so I urge women to put their money where their mouth is. As a nation where women make up over 50% of the population, yet only 17% of Congress, women must increase their political giving to other women to affect change and close the gender gap."
In terms of categories of political giving, Women were best represented in contributions to political parties. Their donations made up 29 percent of total contributions to party committees. Still, this figure was a decrease of 1.9 percentage points from 2008.
Women's giving is the weakest when it comes to PACs, which get about 80 percent of their contributions from men. Those women who do contribute to PACs tend to be more likely to donate to ideological PACs than to business or labor ones.
A recent report by the Houston Chronicle found that political donations from women have been weak during the 2012 election cycle, which has seen the rise of super PACs. A handful of the wealthiest Americans have poured millions of dollars into super PACS, but according to the Federal Election Commission, only 14 percent of total donations to the groups have come from women.
And just as the majority of women tend to vote Democratic, women also give more to Democratic candidates. In 2010, women made 30 percent of the total individual contributions given to Democrats, and 25 percent of those given to Republicans.
Despite low levels of political giving by women, female candidates are generally strong fundraisers. In 2010, female House incumbents raised approximately $100,000 more than their male peers on average. Yet female candidates of color who ran for the House received, on average, less financial support than did male candidates of color. This group also remains underrepresented in Congress. Of the 535 members of Congress, there are just 24 women of color. (All of them are in the House of Representatives.)
Just 17 women serve in the Senate. In the 2012 election cycle, two of these women -- both Republicans -- are retiring, and five -- all Democrats -- are running for reelection.
The "Vote with Your Purse" report says that while there's "no silver bullet" that will motivate women to donate more politically, there are two clear reasons why they are less active in this area: women "do not necessarily think their money matters in showing support for a candidate's campaign," and they "do not view political giving as a civil responsibility, like voting or volunteering for a campaign."
"When they understand the connection between political leadership and social progress, women are more receptive to political giving," said Bennett. "Women must realize their financial support is needed to make important change for women."