Who's your sugar mama?

Large political donations from women are up dramatically since 2000 -- and it may not entirely be because of Clinton and Palin.

Published September 25, 2008 3:25PM (EDT)

No matter your politics, you've got to admit that this year's election has been a big one for American women. So perhaps it's unsurprising to hear that women haven't just been paying more attention to the political season, they've been ponying up the cash.

According to Politico, a study released Tuesday by the Women's Campaign Forum Foundation found that donations by women of $200 or more (the minimum at which a donor's name has to be reported) are triple what they were in 2000. This year, women have donated $109 million in checks of $200 or more to political campaigns. Unsurprisingly, a bunch of this cash went to Hillary Clinton -- about $60 million in checks over $200, the study reports. (That amounts to about half of Clinton's total donations of more than $200 -- and doesn't take into account the donations under $200, many of which were probably made by women.) Barack Obama has done well with the ladies, too, with 47 percent of his total donors identified by his campaign as female, compared with 28 percent for John McCain (though since he is accepting public financing, that doesn't take into account Sarah Palin's effect).

Before you get up in McCain's face about his low female participation, though, keep in mind women's low participation rate to begin with -- on average, donations from women account for only about 27 percent of political contributions (though again, since donors' names don't have to be released unless the donation is above $200, the share may be higher). It's tempting to jump to the conclusion that this year's bounce has to do with Clinton's run for the presidency and an overall greater focus on women (not to mention, of course, Palin), but Politico suggests there may be other factors at play. It reports that Celinda Lake, a Democratic polling expert, suggested five possible motivating factors:

Women want to see how hard elected officials champion issues they care about. They also want to be inspired to give, rather than just asked to do so. Female donors are also more inclined to conduct research before giving, often visiting candidate sites and other Internet sources before committing to writing a check. Finally, these donors want to see how their money is spent and interact with a broader community of supporters.

If these motivators are true, then it would seem that the Internet, even more than the candidates themselves, may be influencing women's donating habits. But regardless of the cause, there's a bigger issue at stake -- as Ilana Goldman, president of the foundation that conducted the poll, suggested, women "cannot have the political power we'd like to see women have if they aren't giving at comparable levels as men."

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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