Oct 30, 2023 - News

Gender disparities persist in Massachusetts political fundraising

Share of 2022 campaign funds donated by women
Reproduced from Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics; Note: States with top-two or top-four primary systems were also excluded; Map: Axios Visuals

Women are not only underrepresented as political candidates in Massachusetts, they're also underrepresented as donors.

Driving the news: Women donors made up 38% of contributions to general election candidates at the statewide and state legislative levels between 2019 and 2022, Axios' Emma Hurt writes.

  • That's according to a new report from Rutgers' Center for American Women and Politics using data from OpenSecrets.
  • Massachusetts exceeded the national average, but still fell short of gender parity in a state where 51% of the population are women.

Why it matters: While women are registered to vote at higher rates than men, they remain disproportionately absent from the halls of political power — and from the political donations that influence how that power is wielded.

Of note: States without regular elections in 2022 were excluded from the data.

The big picture: While the report found the disparity to be worse in some states — just 14% of Nebraska's contributions in 2022 were from women, 17% of Illinois' and 18% of Alabama's — no state had contributions equivalent to their female population last year.

State of play: Massachusetts for the first time has women dominating statewide elected offices with the elections of Gov. Maura Healey, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Attorney General Andrea Campbell and Auditor Diana DiZoglio.

  • Still, women make up less than one-third of the state legislature and just over one-third of the Congressional delegation.

Zoom in: There are more women donors in Massachusetts politics, some of whom gave thousands to Healey's and others' campaigns, but women voters don't just back any woman running for office, says Amanda Hunter, executive director of the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

  • "Women voters can be just as hard on women candidates as anyone from any gender," she tells Axios.
  • Women gubernatorial candidates nationwide, especially women of color, still have to convince some donors that they're serious viable candidates, Hunter adds.

By the numbers: In her personal capacity, Lee, the namesake of the family foundation, is one of the state's biggest political donors.

  • Lee has donated $12,000 to individual women candidates since January 2022, per state campaign finance data.
  • That includes $1,000 donations to Healey, Driscoll, Campbell, Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune.

Plus: Lee also donated $25,000 to MassChoice Independent Expenditure PAC, which supports progressive local and state policies.

Yes, but: While politicians have seen more women donors, men in some heterosexual couples still make the decisions on when to donate, how much and to whom, says Hunter, who works with Lee on the foundation's nonpartisan research.

What's happening: The underrepresentation of women candidates and donors are entwined, Kira Sanbonmatsu, a Rutgers political science professor and the report's lead researcher, told Axios.

It also is inextricable from a persistent gender wealth gap, she said.


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