Clearing the Campaign Financing Hurdle Is Tough for Black Women Candidates

By Kimberly Peeler-Allen

During my decade as a political fundraising consultant, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial fundraising is to a successful run for office. No matter how capable and committed a candidate may be to addressing their constituents’ concerns and priorities, they won’t get elected if they aren’t able to mount an effective campaign—and that takes money. 

Raising needed dollars is almost always a challenge for candidates of color, and it can be particularly tough for Black women. A recent report issued by Higher Heights details the disparities between what Black women candidates and their male counterparts raised during the 2012 election cycle. On average, male members of the Congressional Black Caucus raised just over $1 million where female members raised just under $782,000. The deficit can be even more substantial when Black women run in competitive races, and the financial disadvantage can mean the difference between winning and losing.

While little research has been done on why these fundraising disparities exist, I’ve observed a variety of possible contributors through my work with candidates. Women, for example, tend to be less comfortable than men asking their supporters for donations. This reluctance is likely born of the deeply personal understanding that Black women have of the financial limitations of many of their constituents. An additional challenge is the fact that female donors are unlikely to contribute to women candidates—particularly women of color—unless a strong, well-known validator is endorsing and fundraising on behalf of the candidate. 

All of this begs the question, what would it take for Black women candidates to mount better-financed campaigns? For certain, many of them will need to become more comfortable asking for donations, but a shift in perspective is also needed among potential donors, who generally believe that only large contributions can make a difference. As the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections so clearly illustrated, small dollar amounts can and do win elections, and I personally have witnessed campaigns where small dollar donors have made the difference. These supporters gave $5 or $10 whenever they could and their total contributions often totaled no more than $250 throughout an election cycle. However, their commitment and engagement in campaign issues, and their ability to bring other small dollar donors to the table made them important assets and allies to the candidates.

If the thought of donating to a candidate you support still seems out of reach, consider this: In 2012, 70 percent of eligible Black women voters showed up at the polls. If just 10 percent of these 10 million women donated $25 to Black women candidates during an election season, we could direct $25 million each cycle towards diversifying the political leadership and supporting candidates who know and advocate for our issues. That’s power that goes beyond the voting booth and speaks long after an election is won.

Kimberly Peeler-Allen is cofounder of Higher Heights 

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