Women in Politics : Candidates Face Money Problems

Times Staff Writer

When Lee Podolak ran for the all-male Orange City Council a few years ago, she recalls, “I had a lot of trouble raising money for my campaign because I was a woman.”

Even today, Podolak, a former president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, believes that “campaign fund raising is more difficult for women than men. There are too many people who hold the traditional view that women aren’t serious candidates and therefore, don’t deserve financial support.”

Difficulties in fund raising are the major barrier to the election of more women to office, according to Podolak and many other speakers and panelists scheduled to participate in Saturday’s conference on “The Political Woman: Women on the Move.”

The conference at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana will feature workshops and speeches by politicians, campaign experts and civic activists on how women can get elected to office. It is open to the public, and backers expect to draw more than 200 people.


Second Annual Gathering

The second such annual gathering, it is being sponsored by the Women’s Coalition of Orange County, Rancho Santiago College’s Women’s Programs and Services Department and the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women.

The forum, participants say, is being held against a somber scenario for women achieving electoral victory. Elections are costing more and more for all candidates. Campaign records show that Doris Allen, the county’s only woman in the state Assembly, spent more than $1 million before winning her northeast Orange County seat on her third attempt in 1982.

Of Orange County’s 164 elected officials serving in posts ranging from council member to U.S. representative, only 35 are women, according to statistics compiled this month by the Orange County Republican Party.


Attorney Ruth Church Gupta of San Francisco recounted that when she unsuccessfully sought an Assembly seat several years ago, “I had a very hard time trying to raise campaign funds.”

Criticizing the low level of campaign contributions by women to female candidates, Gupta, a former president of the California Federation of Business and Professional Women, said, “Women are just not used to writing the $100 checks you need to run an effective campaign.”

To increase funds available to women candidates, female political action committees (PACs) have been formed. The statewide Business and Professional Women PAC, for example, expects to contribute $30,000 to California women candidates this year, Gupta said.

‘Greatest Barrier’


California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, who holds the highest constitutional elective state office filled by a woman, agreed in a telephone interview from Sacramento that “the cost of running for office is the greatest barrier to the election of more women.”

She recalled that while it cost only a “couple hundred thousand” dollars when she was first elected to her post 12 years ago, she will spend $1.8-million in her reelection bid this year.

“Male donors don’t see women as politicians. They see women as wives who should be at home and not in politics. They often do this unconsciously, but the bottom line is that they do not deal with female candidates in the same way that they do male candidates.”

Discussing how women can overcome this handicap, Eu said, “I don’t have a sure-fire answer. . . . Women will have to learn to write out campaign contribution checks for $1,000 or $2,000 because that’s what men do.”


Echoing Eu’s opinions, Mary Yunt, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Labor Council of Orange County, said, “There’s an old boy’s network, and men feel more comfortable donating to men candidates.”

Yunt said the AFL-CIO’s PAC has not decided how much it will spend on races in Orange County this year. However, she noted that the AFL-CIO spent $30,000 in the county during 1984 elections.

“Women candidates have to . . . develop the skills and contacts to raise the money they need to run credible campaigns,” said Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles).

Molina, who in 1982 became the first Latina elected to the state Legislature, said in a telephone interview from Sacramento that it costs from $300,000 to $500,000 to win a seat in the Assembly and twice that to secure a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Heads Consulting Firm

Offering a sharply contrasting view on women’s electoral prospects was Lois Lundberg, former chair of the Republican Party of Orange County, who now runs her own political consulting firm, Nason, Lundberg and Kiley in Orange. She said that while women in the rest of the country still face difficulties getting elected to office because of sex, this is not the case in Orange County.

“In Orange County, the business community and the political structure have been so far ahead of the rest of the nation that the political woman has not suffered,” Lundberg said. “Orange County has no problem accepting a good woman candidate--one who is confident and speaks intelligently on the issues.

“In this county we have Harriett Wieder on the Board of Supervisors, Marian Bergeson in the state Senate and Doris Allen in the state Assembly. They and other women candidates were well funded by the Republican Party and its traditional donors.”


Bobbie Minkin, a member of the Laguna Beach City Council, downplayed the role of money in city races.

“I don’t think it’s true that fund-raising difficulties pose much of an impediment to women getting elected at the city council level because there’s no city in Orange County that’s so big that it would require a huge campaign war chest,” said Minkin, who spent $8,000 on her successful 1982 campaign.

Winning in Last Decade

The AFL-CIO’s Yunt said: “Unfortunately, women just in the last decade have been winning campaigns, but still not in the same ratio as men. This causes a lot of people to feel that women are not winners, and therefore, they don’t back them.”


While fund-raising difficulties and perceptions that women shouldn’t be politicians have hampered their efforts to win elective office, Paula Werner believes that the underlying reason is that women have not developed the necessary political skills.

Werner, chair of the Women’s Coalition of Orange County, says many “women still lack the nuts-and-bolts skills to successfully run for office.”

“They don’t know how to get funded or where to go to get PAC money. They don’t understand the need for campaign managers. Women come to politics through working with community groups--on things like hazardous waste. But these activities don’t necessarily equip them with the skills they need to run for office and win. That’s why we’re holding Saturday’s conference.”

(The event, which is open to the public, costs $17.50 per person. To register, call Sara Lundquist at (714) 667-3058.)


Some conference participants said they are disappointed that women who win elections, in fact, frequently are not progressive on women’s issues. “Women from Orange County who’re elected to the state Legislature come from very conservative constituencies, and therefore, they’ve not pushed the women’s issues as I would have wished,” Podolak said.

But Arlene Sontag of Anaheim, a moderate Republican, argued that the women’s movement benefits even when conservative women are elected. Sontag is national chair of the Republican Task Force of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a 77,000-member nonpartisan organization which seeks to increase the number of elected women officeholders.

“Take a woman officeholder, who for religious reasons, is not pro-choice (on abortion). We can work with her on other women’s issues such as child care, equal pension rights or affirmative action.”

“Women are as talented as men. We are seeking parity in policy making.”


Republican activist Lundberg said that since she is conservative, she is pleased by the election of other conservative women such as Bergeson, who opposes state-funded abortions, favors prayer in public schools and opposes the equal rights amendment.

Shirley Walton of Huntington Beach, a former president of Democratic Women of Orange County and a member of the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women, says female candidates may undermine their candidacies by stressing women’s issues.

“Women’s issues are not enough to open pocketbooks,” said Walton, a conservative Democrat. “Women’s issues like the ERA (equal rights amendment), abortion, comparable pay or sexual harassment really deal with just one issue.

“People don’t vote for single issue candidates. (And) if a woman candidate doesn’t win an election, she can’t help women at all.”