Black Girl Magic was on full blast last fall when thousands of African American women voters determined the outcome of critical elections in Virginia and Alabama and defeated candidates who actively worked against the interest of our communities.
Seeking to turn magic into new political realities, hundreds of black women from around the country announced plans to run for office. Writer and social commentator Luvvie Ajayi captured this lightning in a bottle and established a searchable database that lists more than 400 black women running for local, state, and federal office in this year’s mid-term elections, held on Nov. 6.
While it’s vital to know who is running for office and to donate to their campaigns, it’s also important to understand how campaigns work and how your dollars will likely be spent. Money is synonymous with evil in politics.
Real Talk About Money. Well-meaning, liberal, reformers talk about eliminating the influence of money in politics. However, money enables political candidates to pay for operating expenses and tell voters who they are and what they stand for via radio, television, social media, and mailers.
“Campaigns aren’t cheap,” said Montica Talmadge, who has served in state, local, and national positions in the Democratic Party. “Unless things like office space, furniture, and supplies are going to be given as an ‘in-kind’ donation, these things come with a cost.
Everything from Post-It notes to snacks for the staff have to be purchased. Your donation also goes to purchase yard signs, stickers, t-shirt, and campaign literature.” In addition, Talmadge said, campaigns at every level are getting more expensive.
Democrat Barack Obama’s 2008 run against Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain was the nation’s first billion-dollar presidential campaign. Of the $6.5 billion spent in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, $2.4 billion of that was spent in the presidential contest, including the primaries, according to OpenSecrets.org, a campaign finance watchdog. “Politics is a business,” Talmadge said. “It is a business run by asking people to invest in the commodity, which is the candidate themselves.”
Dialing for Dollars One of the biggest hurdles for women candidates, regardless of their race, is asking for money, said LaMonique Hamilton Barnes, the development manager for Lillian’s List, an organization that recruits, trains, and supports progressive women running for office in North Carolina. “There seems to be a sense of guilt associated with asking for a large sum of money,” Hamilton Barnes said. “To anyone who is running for office, especially women of color, we tell them that the money is not for the candidate. It’s to ensure representation and a voice in government that reflects the needs and desires of the community.”
Nevertheless, it continues to be a man’s world when it comes to dialing for dollars, said Tricia Cotham, a former state lawmaker. At the age of 28, Cotham, who is white, was in 2007 the youngest member of the North Carolina General Assembly and the youngest woman ever to serve in the state House. Cotham served five terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives. She left public office in 2016 and now works as a lobbyist assisting clients with state and local issues.
“I remember a senior political person telling me I needed to get a man to endorse me to show I have the approval of men,” Cotham said.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to that because of who has access to money and where that money comes from.”There is a predominance of male donors in politics. Cotham said she also faced gender double-standards after winning office, getting married, and having two children during the decade she served in the state House.
“If a male candidate has a young family, he is perceived as hard-working, loyal, and dedicated,” Cotham said. “If a female candidate has a young family, she is perceived as self-absorbed and ambitious. I have been asked will my children have a nanny while I serve and who pays for that? You shouldn’t have to talk about those issue on the phone to a donor. But you have to accept the reality and explain yourself a lot more.”
It Takes a Village. Women of color candidates often run in districts with fewer financial resources. One of the initial challenges candidates have is reaching outside of their immediate communities for support, Hamilton Barnes said.
“One of the biggest and least utilized opportunities women of color have is accessing their sorority networks,”
“The sororities themselves cannot give, but individual sorors can. Candidates can also utilize the talent pool sororities have to put together a volunteer corps.”
In addition to seeking financial support from sororities, churches, and other community organizations, women of color can get help from organizations like Lillian’s List, which provides candidate and campaign staff training at all political levels.
“Having a solid campaign staff is essential,” Hamilton Barnes said. “Women of color don’t often realize how crucial it is to have a campaign staff who is trained, ready, and has your back. It really is a team effort. You can’t do it alone.” Supporting women of color candidates can go beyond money and training, Talmadge said. “When they (women of color) run, help them with the laundry, take them out for a glass of wine and listen to her, take her kids to the museum so that she can work, tell and show her that you appreciate her sacrifice,” Talmadge said.
Here Are Five Ways You Can Help
1. Check out blackwomeninpolitics.com to see if there are any women of color candidates running in your community.
2. Review campaign finance laws in your state to make sure you don’t run afoul of disclosure requirements and campaign contribution limits. The National Conference of State Legislatures keeps a database of laws and disclosure requirements in each state. The Federal Election Commission has published its guidelines to help you support candidates in congressional races.
3. Give early and often. Timing is everything in politics. While each campaign is different, it’s best to give early during the election cycle to help women of color candidates boost their credibility and attract large donations and help from state and national political organizations.
4. Offer to host a campaign fundraiser brunch or event in your home. Check state and federal guidelines regarding bundling campaign contributions.
5. Donate to organizations like Lillian’s and EMILY’s List nationally. They recruit, train, and support our future leaders.