The Year of the Working Woman - page 3
September 1999,
Working Woman magazine

The fundraisers

All this attention to working women's concerns, however, won't mean much if women don't fill candidates' coffers. They say that money is the mother's milk of politics, and, indeed, the influence of campaign donors has a long history of shaping the law of the land. Yet as women have stepped up their political participation, their financial involvement has traditionally not followed suit. This year that trend is changing, with working women leading the charge.

"Clinton Supporters Eye $25 Million Campaign for New York Seat," shouted a headline in the Washington Post this summer. That may well be what it takes to win an election in New York, but it's a hefty sum for someone who just started a campaign fund in the past year. Should the First Lady's supporters manage to raise that amount, it will be done with plenty of help form women campaign professionals and business owners.

Among a group of power players assembled at Clinton's first Senate fund-raising meeting in July were a number of "low-key political newcomers," reported the Post, "mainly women who not only agree with Clinton's stand on family issues but also are determined to have a role in ushering the first woman into a New York Senate seat." High-powered women in attendance included Sharon Patrick, president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (No. 83 on the Working Woman 500 list of the nation's top women-owned businesses); Geraldine Laybourne of Oxygen Media; and Beth DeWoody of Rudin Management Co., a major player in New York real estate. They were joined by Washington lobbyist Liz Robbins and Maureen White, a veteran Democrat fund-raiser. Gabrielle Fialkoff has been named finance director of Clinton's exploratory committee. "This is being driven by women," Fialkoff confirms. "My finance committee is mostly women, many of whom have never participated so directly in politics before." To make her point, she rattles off a list of fund-raising events, including a roundtable of professional women tentatively scheduled for this month, and a working women's breakfast slated for December.

For Elizabeth Dole, too, women are opening their purses. Ever since George W. Bush jumped into the race and rapidly filled his war chest with an unprecedented $37 million by the second quarter of this year, Dole has been blocked from the usual party funding sources, as well as the media spotlight. But when it became apparent that, despite her yeas of campaigning for GOP candidates, the traditional funding base of the Republican Party wasn't about to buy Dole even a cup of coffee, she didn't get mad; she forged a new path that she hopes will get her even.

Outside the office of a New Hampshire realtor, Elizabeth Dole is holding forth before a lone camera crew when Working Woman catches up with her. After concluding her television interview, she summons this reporter to her side. She wants Working Woman readers to know that career women are playing a central role in keeping her campaign afloat. She especially wants us to know about her campaign finance director, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, president of Pace Communications in Greensboro, North Carolina, who placed in the top half of the Working Woman 500. ("She's 154th," Dole says.)

Dole was quick to notice McElveen-Hunter's strong record raising money for such organizations as the United Way. "And I said, 'Bonnie, it's not so hard to convert that to political fund-raising,' you know?" Dole explains. "And she said, 'All right, let's go for it."

So far, Dole's strategy is working. Though women typically lag far behind men in campaign contributions (making up only 25 percent of campaign donors), almost half of Dole's checks have come from women, according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that follows election financing. At the beginning of her campaign, Dole's quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission showed her ranking dead last in fund-raising among the major Republican presidential contenders. Figures for the second quarter of 1999 still show her far behind Bush, but, with $2.8 million, she was tied for second place with Steve Forbes in terms of money raised from outside sources. (Forbes's personal contributions bumped his total ahead of Dole's.)

"Well, obviously, when you have one candidate who has raised $37 million, you have two things you can do," DiVall says. "You can sit here and complain about the fact that somebody else has $37 million, or try to raise money from nontraditional sources to be competitive. And Mrs. Dole is a competitive person."

When we catch up with McElveen-Hunter, she's talking to us on her cell phone, en route to a company board meeting. Dole couldn't ask for a more relentless fund-raiser than McElveen-Hunter, a woman who doesn't take no for an answer. "Somebody said to me, 'I'm already supporting George W.,' and I said, 'Well I've never seen a pair of pants with only one pocket," she explains with a chuckle.

McElveen-Hunter's decision to leap into a new personal frontier of politics surprised many of her colleagues. "Someone said, you know, 'How can you say yes to being her national finance chairman?' I said, 'How could I say no?' I mean there are no second chances for first acts in American history, and this is a first act. I want to be a part of it."

An enthusiastic woman with a rich Southern accent, McElveen-Hunter is bubbling over with excitement about the women she's helped bring in as co-chairs on the finance committee. The list is indeed impressive: Barbara Jane Moores (No. 496 on the Working Woman 500) of BJM & Associates; Judy Haberkorn, president of consumer sales and service at Bell Atlantic; Catherine Viscardi Johnston, executive vice president at Condé Nast Publications; along with two other major magazine editors and a senior vice president at a brokerage firm who don't want their names mentioned in print. Few of them have done political fund-raising before.

"To me, that's what campaigns are supposed to be about," says McElveen-Hunter. "They're about being inclusive and inviting people into the process [by which] they, for whatever reason, have not before felt so inspired. So, to me, it's really great for Elizabeth Dole, it's great for the party, and ultimately, let's face it, women's leadership is great for the country."

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