Did House Republicans pass over women for leadership roles because they were poor fundraisers?


When House Republicans announced their new line-up of committee chairs for the 113th Congress last week, the Washington buzz was that all were white men. Not a single lady was given charge of a committee.

While we can’t rule out sexism, there’s another explanation that might be even simpler: money. In particular, money that House Republicans raised for their leadership PACs, organizations separate from their own campaigns that are used to help fellow candidates and generally demonstrate members’ fundraising prowess.

Looking at Republican leadership PAC fundraising data, a few things become very clear very quickly. One is that almost all of the caucus leaders and committee chairs have large leadership PACs. Two is that almost all of the large leadership PACs are associated with male candidates.

Overall, Republican leadership PACs raised a combined $14.7 million this election (based on the latest FEC data). Almost exactly one third of leadership PAC money came from just three members of the caucus: Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “Every Republican is Crucial PAC” ($2.1 million), Speaker John Boehner’s “Freedom Project” ($1.7 million), and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s “Majority Committee PAC” ($1.2 million). The ten most active PACs raised $8.6 million, or about 58% of the total money raised by Republican PACs. Put another way, fewer than five percent of Republican members raised more than half of the leadership PAC money.

Of the top ten (see below for a full listing), all have or had leadership positions, if you count the position of chief Deputy Whip (Peter Roskam (IL)). Spencer Bachus (AL) at #10 on the list ($319,500 for his Growth & Prosperity PAC) will not be staying on as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, making his the only top ten leadership PAC not to yield a leadership position.  Notably, the one caucus member who got renewed for a second six-year term on same committee was Paul Ryan, whose “Prosperity PAC” was fourth in the leadership PAC rankings at $832,529. He will stay on as Budget Committee chair.

The treemap below visualizes House Members by their leadership PAC fundraising, leadership position, and gender. The slice at the top shows the women. To see the distortion of money, toggle between “Money Raised” (where density represents the size of the leadership PAC) and “Size of Group” (where all members get equal density).

(graphic by Alexander Furnas)

Of the 40 most active leadership PACs in the 2012 campaign, only one — Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ (WA) “CMR PAC” – was connected to a female member. “CMR PAC” raised $205,000, making it the 20th largest leadership PAC. And McMorris Rodgers was rewarded with the number four Republican leadership spot: head of the House GOP conference

Going down the list of leadership PACs by size, you have to go down to #42, for the next female to show up: Lynn Jenkins (KS) at #42, who raised $61,000 for her “Lead Your Nation Now PAC.”  Next is Marsha Blackburn (TN) at #43 with $60,500 for her “Wedge PAC”. Of the top 50 most active leadership PACs, these are the only three associated with female candidates. Jenkins was rewarded by becoming the party’s vice chairman.

Candice Miller (MI), who was originally passed over for Homeland Security Chair, did have a tiny leadership PAC, “Conservative American Network Delivering.” It raised only $38,500, putting her 55th on the Republican caucus list. But that, and the public pressure on Republicans to show a little diversity in their leadership, were enough to win her the charge of the House Administration Committee after all.

Interestingly, of the five Republican caucus members who lost their chair positions because their terms were up (Spencer Bachus, John Mica, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ralph Hall, and Pete King), only Bachus raised substantial money ($319,500). Hall and King raised nothing. Mica raised only $27,000 and Ros-Lehtinen raised only $9,000.

While there are exceptions to the rule, the general pattern here is quite clear: with great responsibility comes great power. Members who raise large sums for their leadership PACs and show that they can be responsible for helping others get leadership positions. Of course, once they get leadership positions, it then becomes even easier to raise more money. Committee chairs always have a fundraising advantage since everybody wants access to them. And while the alleged sexism of Republican leaders is fodder for endless speculation, the nice thing about the fundraising numbers is that there is actual data.

Thanks to Alexander Furnas, Amy Cesal, and Alex Engler for their help in preparing this post.