Millionaire Political Donors Club: Where Are the Women?

PHOTO: Sheldon Adelson speaks at a luncheon in Macau, June 8, 2011.

In the elite world of high-dollar super PAC donors, men reign supreme.

While about 40 percent of the people who have given $200 or more to Mitt Romney or President Obama's campaigns are women, they are a tiny fraction of the mega-donors that make waves with their six-figure checks to the pro-Obama or pro-Romney Super PACs.

Of the 26 people that have given $100,000 or more to Priorities USA, the Super PAC supporting Obama, only four are women, or about 15 percent. The gender gap is even larger for the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future, where just 11 percent of six-figure donors are women, according to ABC's analysis of campaign disclosure data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

"It's an artifact of income differences and professional differences," said David Magleby, a political science professor at Brigham Young University. "Women have not, until recently, been as large of players in corporate leadership or partners in law firms or that whole range of professions that are major donors."

Women hold a meager 16 percent of the boards of directors' seats or corporate officer positions at America's Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst, a non-profit that advocates for women in business.

One of the main reasons people make large donations to political campaigns is to support a candidate that will help or protect their business or to appease a business partner who also donating, Magleby said.

So even though many married couples make a joint decision to donate, "it may be a professional advantage for the male to be the donor of record," Magleby said.

Before the era of the super PAC, which can accept unlimited contributions, women were more prominent on the donor rolls. Families took advantage of federally-mandated contribution limits to parties and candidates by making one donation in the husband's name and another in the wife's name.

None of the four women who gave $100,000 or more to the Pro-Obama Super PAC donated in conjunction with their husbands. But nearly half of the pro-Romney super PAC's six-figure female donors made their contribution in the exact same amount and on the same day as their husbands. Only 12 donated independently of their husbands.

The most notable example of this couple giving is casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, each of whom gave a whopping $5 million to Restore Our Future in June. Adelson is the only woman who has donated more than $1 million to the pro-Romney group.

The Adelsons are the only couple that have each given $1 million to one of the presidential candidates' super PACs. Only 17 other people have achieved that mega-donor status. Of those, only three, including Adelson, were women.

Heirloom plant conservationist and author Amy Goldman and philanthropist Barbara Stiefel gave $1 million and $1.05 million, respectively, to the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA.

So why are there so few women in the millionaire donors club?

In part, because they have less to give, said Kay Scholzman, a political science professor at Boston College. "The single biggest thing that drives making donations and how big they are is income," Scholzman said.

Women make up about 37 percent of the millionaires in North America, according to the 2011 World Wealth Report from Merrill Lynch and Capgemini. And they earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

But women also have history to blame for their minute share of political donations. Campaigns, just like universities, radio stations and other groups that ask for donations, go back to people who have donated in the past. And when it comes to politics, that historical list is dominated by men, particularly in the high-dollar range.

"The most important thing is they [men] were asked to give," Magleby said.

But while this massive gender gap dominates big donors, it begins to close as the contributions get smaller, particularly among Democratic candidates.

So far this election cycle, about 30 percent of the people who gave $200 or more to a federal candidate were women, according to campaign contribution data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

That gender gap is much larger among Republican donors. More than two-thirds of Romney's donors are men. Considering only donors who gave $200 or more, only 30 percent of Romney's campaign contributions were donated by women.

Obama donations, on the other hand, have come from fairly equal pool of males and females. Women accounted for about 44 percent of the $104 million that Obama has taken in from donations larger than $200.

About 30,000 more women have made donations of $200 or more to Obama's campaign than to Romney's, doling about $16 million more to the president than to his GOP challenger, the center's data shows.

As women play catch-up in the corporate world and continue to close the pay gap, Magleby said he expects their share of the campaign donation pie will grow as well.

"There is no question over time… that females are going to be more and more important players," he said.

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