Can the hand that rocks the cradle, rock the vote? | The Election Page | Indy Week

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Can the hand that rocks the cradle, rock the vote?

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NASCAR Dads and Deaniacs, move over! A new study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics shows another political niche group has arrived on the scene.

An analysis by the center of contributions to presidential candidates of more than $200 shows roughly one-third of the campaign money George Bush raised through February came from women who identified themselves as homemakers. By comparison, homemakers made up a fifth of the total John Kerry took in during the same period.

The center says these figures shore up an historical trend: Women who don't work outside the home tend to send their dollars to Republicans, while women with incomes separate from their spouses give to Democrats. In the 2000 election cycle, homemakers went for Republicans over Democrats by 55 percent to 45 percent. So is the old saying about the hand rocking the cradle coming true? Well, campaign finance can be a tricky business.

The study shows that among women--who are historically underrepresented as campaign donors--Bush has recorded far more contributors and significantly more money so far than Kerry. Specifically, Bush had 28,333 women donors through the end of February, compared to Kerry's 6,935.

But the totals can be misleading because they obscure the fact that Bush had raised five times the money Kerry raised overall. When campaign contributions are analyzed as a percentage of overall fund-raising, the center reports it's Kerry who has the edge. Of the $7.7 million he took in through February, 35 percent came from women donors. By comparison, of Bush's $40.5 million, 32 percent came from women.

And there's another wrinkle. As anyone who's spent quality time looking at campaign finance reports knows, the "homemaker" tag can also be a way to bundle large donations from the same household.

"What you'll see is women who list homemaker as their occupation and then you'll see another donation from the same address and that's their husband who's also a big giver," says Peter Walz, field organizer at Carrboro-based Democracy North Carolina. "It's a legal practice as long as the spouse is aware of the contribution. But it does raise eyebrows."

Homemakers aren't the only household contributors found on campaign finance reports. On occasion, researchers have even seen donations from young children on the list.

"This is something people have done for years," says Chris Heagarty, director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. "The spouses max out at $4,000 each and then the children max out at $4,000. It's legal, but that doesn't mean it's desirable." A simple reform would be "if it's legal for you to vote, then it's legal for you to contribute," he adds. In a close election, the homemaker vote may well be worth fighting for. But the bottom line, experts say, is that campaign fundraising is still dominated by a different elite.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the population contributed $1,000 or more to a candidate, party or PAC in the 2000 elections. In an extensive study of North Carolina campaign donors in that cycle, Democracy North Carolina found that 97 percent of major givers were white and 67 percent were male. That's a stark contrast to voter registration rolls showing 55 percent of the state's registered voters are women and 22 percent are non-white.

It all adds up to a case for more aggressive reforms that will net smaller donations from a broader segment of the citizenry, says Walz--the type of reform represented by Howard Dean's campaign and the MoveOn PAC's current push to raise $50 million in $100 donations from 500,000 contributors to defeat Bush, called "50 for the Future (for info, go to www.moveon.org/ pac/news/50forfuture.html )

"The small-donor campaigns really could revolutionize campaign fund-raising," Walz says. "But for a lot of people, $100 is still not affordable. What we've got to do is get to a system where even $100 is not needed for political participation."

To read Democracy North Carolina's "Color of Money" report, go to www.democracy-nc.org. For more analysis of national campaign donations, visit the Center for Responsive Politic's Web site at www.opensecrets.org . EndBlock

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