By Natalie Dymkowski
On average, female legislators in Michigan outraised their male counterparts in 2017 contributions to their own campaigns by more than $6,000.
That’s despite the fact that women may face more fundraising challenges than men, said A’Shanti Gholar, political director of Emerge America, a national group that encourages women to run for office.
“When a woman decides to run, she may have a harder time raising money,” Gohlar said. “And she is most likely going to have a deficit in fundraising.”
Despite the hurdles, Gholar said that she is unsurprised that Michigan female lawmakers were able to outraise men if they had the right tools and met the right criteria as candidates.
The female state lawmakers on average raised around $58,000 in 2017 to finance their campaigns, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records. Male lawmakers collected roughly $52,000 on average. The woman who raised the most money was State Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, who raised $308,877. That included $250,000 of her own money.
Hughes did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Political experts say that raising money is less of a problem for women than the challenge of getting more women to run.
“Research shows that women running for office are doing just as well as men,” said Jessica Kelly, the program and leadership director of Running Start, another national organization that encourages and trains women to run for office. “They are just not running as often.”
A smaller percentage of funding for women lawmakers comes from political action committees than the proportion coming from those special interests raised by male lawmakers, according to the analysis.
The analysis examined the records of 37 female and 109 male lawmakers. It found that 56 percent of the money raised by men came from the committees commonly known as PACs. At the same time, about 49 percent raised by women came from that source.
The difference may have more to do with their seniority, said Mark Grebner, an East Lansing political consultant.
“I think the biggest reason women don’t take as much PAC money right now is because right now there are no women who are in key leadership roles where they are controlling PAC fundraising, ” said Grebner, the founder of Practical Political Consulting.
Two female lawmakers in leadership roles are State House Democratic Floor leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, who raised $55,304, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, President Pro Tempore of the Michigan State Senate, and raised $50,626.
PAC contributions are to a large extent organized by people behind the scenes and not about supporting a candidate because they agree with them, Grebner said.
“PAC money, almost none of it, has anything to do with supporting a person just because they think he/she is doing a good job,” Grebner said. “People who control money, they are visibly moving money around and what you’re seeing is just the surface of it.”
Grebner said that a group could move a certain amount of money to a candidate and that candidate who is raising money can put it away in a PAC and later move it to another campaign.
Despite the differential in PAC contributions, women raise more total funds on average, according to the analysis. It may be because they have to work harder to get elected.
State Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, said that she faced challenges when running because voters typically see men as political candidates and not women. That made it harder to raise money.
She had to campaign twice as hard as her male counterparts, Pagan said.
“I used every single moment I had wisely because I also had a full-time job,” she said. “I wanted to optimize bringing as many people as I could into the campaign using cutting edge technology.”
Running for office presented challenges because voters did not see her as a “traditional” candidate, she said. She had to make a compelling case to show them that she was serious and in the end.
Now, Pagan says she hopes to help get money out of politics and focus on more important things.
“I should be doing research on legislature or reading bills,” Pagan said. “But I also have to incorporate raising money for resources that I need just to stay in office.”
Tomorrow: Republican state lawmakers in Michigan raised more PAC money than Democrats, but rely on it less for total contributions
Editor’s note: This story is one of a series produced by a Spartan Newsroom campaign finance data analysis project. Andrew Birkle, Natalie Dymkowski, Jaylyn Galloway, Ian Hawley, Eli Pales, Zach Robertson and William Thiede contributed to the series. It was produced with the advice and collaboration of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.