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PAC Founder Puts Her Money Where Her Passion Is

By Robin Tierney
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 29, 2006

When Holly Shulman received a bonus at work, she wanted to invest it in something with more social impact than her dwelling or wardrobe. So she brainstormed with friends, then started Vote Against Violence, a political action committee focused on combating domestic and sexual violence.

Shulman grew up in Demarest, N.J., the daughter of politically active parents. "My dad, a rabbi, was responsible for my activism, and my mother, for my feminism," she says. She focused on urban studies at Vassar College, with concentrations in politics and religion.

After graduation, she landed in the District at ElectionMall Technologies, a nonpartisan company whose products support political candidates and causes. In June 2005, she became press secretary for the Association for Competitive Technology, where she lobbies for patent reform to help small and mid-size information technology firms. That's where she got the bonus that helped her start her PAC.

Not bad for a 23-year-old.

In August, Shulman made the Real Hot 100 list ( http://therealhot100.org ). Launched by a group of professionals seeking a high-profile way to honor brains over bust line (and as an alternative to Maxim magazine's Hot 100 list), the Real Hot 100 recognizes young women who are working to make the world better.

How does someone building a career make time for politics now -- instead of waiting for that elusive "when I get settled"? Shulman shared some insights:

What was your first activist experience?

When I was 1 year old, I "marched" in a stroller for the 10th anniversary of Roe v. Wade .

Okay, your second?

I've been writing op-eds since ninth grade. I wrote one letter to [Rudolph] Giuliani in response to the city's actions for the 1998 Million Youth March. More than 3,000 police officers had been ordered into Harlem to disrupt the march; excessive force was used.

You received a bonus in December, leading to a pivotal event in your life. Tell us about that.

I was having coffee with a friend, Caitlin Horrigan, talking about how I could give the bonus to a candidate or invest in a way to make more of a difference.

The Violence Against Women Act had recently been reauthorized by Congress. We both know people affected by domestic or sexual violence. Chances are, if you know three people, one of them is directly affected by it. A low estimate is 960,000 incidents of violence committed by partners or spouses per year. We found no organization focused on electing candidates committed to ending domestic violence.

What does Vote Against Violence do?

We identify candidates who are energized about our issues and then help get them elected. Most policies that affect these issues are not obvious and often have unintended consequences. For example, the federal marriage amendment, if passed, might grant . . . legal protections [against domestic violence] only in situations where the couple is legally married. We need people in Congress who pay attention to the unintended consequences of legislation.

What about voters?

We educate them about which candidates are better on our issue. We endorsed Donna Edwards [in the Democratic primary for Maryland's 4th Congressional District], who lost by a small margin. We'll support her again in 2008. She was the first executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and helped pass the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which provides funding to shelters and services for victims of domestic violence and their children.

[Democratic incumbent] Jim Marshall, who is running in a very competitive congressional race in central Georgia, has really made a commitment to ending domestic and sexual violence. He earmarked funds for a girls' crisis center and [when he was a mayor] helped get a shelter opened for battered women.

What about Republican candidates?

We've endorsed Orrin Hatch. He has always been a strong supporter of these issues; he was a sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act. And we've just endorsed Ginny Brown-Waite for reelection to Congress in central Florida. She co-chairs the women's caucus and sponsored an amendment to add $10 million for Violence Against Women Act-funded programs, like shelters and transitional housing for victims.

Share an insider secret about elections.

A voter needs to be asked seven times before they're likely to remember a new candidate's name. One study indicated that [prospects] must be touched at least three different ways -- for example, a radio ad, an e-mail and a phone call from a volunteer.

This July, you were elected political director for WIN. What's that?

It's the Women's Information Network, a volunteer organization of about 1,100 young, pro-choice Democratic women in the D.C. area. It's a solution to the "old boys' club."

Do you have advice for folks who want to get politically engaged?

First, become a lawyer -- there are a lot of regulations! Luckily, we [at Vote Against Violence] found an amazing lawyer who volunteered her time. Find people interested in your issue, build relationships and share ideas. We ran newspaper and online ads, but most of our supporters came from word of mouth. Our e-mail list already exceeds 1,000 supporters.

And once you make a decision, be ready. Hours after we decided to start the PAC, someone contacted us about donating money.

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