Women's organizations have been putting together, without much notice, a political network that is dedicated to electing to state and federal office many more women, as well as men committed to women's issues. While no match for the millions that the Republican Party can raise, the political action committees of women's organizations and the political knowledge of women activists are far more sophisticated than they used to be, and their effectiveness probably will just begin to be measured in this November's elections.
One of the oldest PACs is the Women's Campaign Fund, started in 1974 to elect women to state legislatures. The independent fund hopes to give out $200,000 in direct contributions to women candidates this year and $200,000 in technical assistance. "We have penetrated the PAC network here in Washington," says fund director Ranny Cooper, "so when a candidate comes to town we can get her meetings with the top 50 or 60 people with PACs. We had one candidate here who in one week felt she had raised $40,000. For a lot of women candidates we have become the Washington office for them, brokering the resources Washington has to offer." Along with the Capitol Hill Women's Caucus, the fund helps candidates with research on issues.
The National Women's Education Fund, whose Campaign Workbook is a first-rate primer on how to run a political campaign, will be sponsoring campaign technique seminars during August and September in 19 communities across the nation for people who want to increase the participation of women in politics. "We feel there is a large pool of people out there being rapidly politicized" by the defeat of ERA and by the Reagan administration, says fund executive director Rosalie Whalen.
The bipartisan National Women's Political Caucus has a list of 12 male anti-ERA legislators whom it wants to defeat. The caucus, which has 60,000 members, hopes to spend more than $1 million this year in efforts to elect women candidates to state and federal offices.
The National Abortion Rights Action League, which supports prochoice men as well as women, hopes to raise $750,000 for state and federal campaign contributions this year. An official said NARAL has already given out $50,000 in state races in Oregon and West Virginia and backed winning candidates in five out of six and seven out of eight primary races in those states, respectively.
Two other abortion rights organizations, Friends of Family Planning and Voters for Choice, have formed PACs. Voters for Choice has also developed a handbook that it plans to give out to about 100 candidates to help them respond to the abortion issue.
The Business and Professional Women formed a PAC in January 1980, one of the first traditional women's organizations to do so. Its PAC is not restricted to women candidates, "but that's definitely one of its purposes," according to Judy Schub, director of legislation. "Our goal is to raise $100,000 and we are on target." A candidate must support ERA to get money from this group.
The American Nurses Association, with 170,000 members, hopes to raise $200,000 for its PAC, and the National Organization for Women, which with 180,000 members is the largest feminist organization and the most successful fund-raiser for the ERA campaign, hopes to raise $3 million for its federal PAC. Both will be giving heavily to women candidates.
The League of Women Voters, while not endorsing, will be lobbying incumbent members of Congress to back the reintroduced ERA, according to league President Dorothy Ridings. The league has 1,300 chapters and 110,000 members. "This will be an election issue," says Ridings. "I think there's a lot of anger and militancy on the part of people who never expected to be angry or militant. We've been there lobbying for a lot of causes that are valid and necessary, but this time it's personal."
The American Association of University Women, with 190,000 members, has become increasingly politicized and has been in the forefront of involving women in debates over the economy and national security. ERA was its top priority. It is considering forming a PAC.
The organizations involved represent the interests and commitment of hundreds of thousands of educated, participating women who more than ever before want a voice in the way their country is run. In the last election, women were a majority of the voters. It is clear from the emerging political activism, the growth of PACs and the spreading of electoral expertise, that they will be silent no more.