Saturday, September 28, 2013

Women and Campaign Contributions

While the marginal effect of fundraising and campaign spending is contested, these measurements offer one method to identify trends and predict the results of political campaigns.

A recent study, conducted by the Center of Responsive Politics, shows that there is a significant gender gap in campaign contributions. In fact, the percentage of federal contributions that come from women has remained mostly static for the past 23 years, only increasing from 22% in 1990 to 25% so far in 2013. Yet the representation of women in Congress has increased more dramatically, with the percentage of women in the House increasing from 7% in 1990 to 18% in 2013. This shows that men and women do not make their contribution decisions based solely on descriptive representation of gender, and one’s party identification is a stronger influence. With the gender gap in party identification, women are more likely to contribute to Democratic candidates, with working women leaning to the left, and homemakers leaning to right. 

Still, the study shows that descriptive representation is a factor when it comes to campaign contributions. Female Democrats receive the largest proportion of contributions from women, and male Republicans receive the smallest proportion of contributions from women. In 2012, female Democratic Senator Jan Schakowsky of Illinois received the highest proportion of contributions from women with 65% of contributions coming from women. Compare that to male Republic Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who only received 12.4% of contributions from women in 2012. Holding the party constant, we can compare Jan Schakowsky’s 65% to male Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, with only 16.9% of his contributions coming from women in 2012.

Six billion dollars were spent on campaigns in 2012, so it is evident that fundraising is an essential aspect of campaigns. Although there are many factors affecting the under-representation of women in Congress, if women want more descriptive representation in politics, they can be proactive by helping to close the gender gap in campaign contributions and giving more to the campaigns of female candidates.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

How The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 Will Hurt Women

        As the 2008 farm bill reaches its expiration date, both houses of Congress are considering separate versions of the bill that would cut and eliminate programs for farmers and low income families. The original farm bill in 1973 authorized the food stamp program, which was reinstated by the 2008 Food and Nutrition Act. Yesterday, the House passed the latest version of the bill 217-210, which would cut nearly $39 billion over the next 10 years. Introduced by the House Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), on September 16th, H.R. 3102, The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 would cut funding for the food stamp program (SNAP) as well as prohibit "USDA and states from advertising or promoting SNAP," ends SNAP benefits for college students, allows drug testing on SNAP recipients, and sets up various additional requirements for SNAP eligibility.

       As Joann Weiner explains in the Washington Post, this bill could be particularly detrimental to women, who now make up more than 300,000 principal operators of farms as of 2011. However, there is a large discrepancy between the amount of money that women-operated farms and men-operated farms receive from the government. For example, female farmers rely more on land retirement programs, which account for 56% of government funds received by farms operated by women (compared with 20% for men). These programs supplement an income stream to farmers who retire environmentally-sensitive land from farming. H.R. 3102 cuts funding for these land retirement programs by $2.7 billion over the next 10 years. Furthermore, the bill will cut $40 billion by repealing the Direct Payments Program, which were direct payments from the government to assist farmers in the differences between market prices. 44.5% of women-operated farms received such funding. 

 Though Congress has typically used the farm bill to help farmers suffering from temporarily low crop prices, almost 80% of spending in the bill supports these nutritional programs. Weiner argues that the most detrimental parts of the bill are the cuts made to the food stamp program. Households on food stamps average only $744 in monthly income, and the lowest income households receive the greatest amount of SNAP assistance. About 84% of SNAP recipients live in poverty and 62% of SNAP recipients are adult women. Children account for 45% of all SNAP participants, and single mothers are particularly reliant upon these benefits. Thus, cutting SNAP benefits would have a huge effect on women and mothers who rely on these benefits to supplement their impoverished incomes.

       Considering the conservative make-up of the House, this bill is not particularly surprising- cutting funding from government programs has long been on the agenda of House Republicans. However, the passage of the bill was a relatively close vote at 217-210. Though the bill was passed relatively soon after it was introduced, the close passage may indicate the extremity of the bill itself. Moreover, though the farm bill and the food stamp programs are not typically seen as women's issues- not like abortion, rape, or workplace discrimination, women are especially affected by government benefits that support working women and single mothers. Therefore, cuts to these programs are becoming more and more of a "women's issue," raising the question as to whether these cuts should be seen as a conservative attempt to disenfranchise women in the same way of the Oklahoma restrictions on abortion. It will be interesting to see how the bill develops, and if it is even able to pass the democratically-controlled Senate. 

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oklahoma's Medical Abortion Law

After a summer of landmark Supreme Court decisions, we can already look forward another controversial case in the Court's next term. On June 27th the Court agreed to hear Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in which the state of Oklahoma seeks to overturn the state Supreme Court's decision to strike down a law limiting medical abortions. What some find most remarkable about the Oklahoma law is its seeming reasonableness. Medical abortion (or medication abortion) is a nonsurgical method of ending a pregnancy. As Emily Bazelon explains in Slate, medical abortion allows women to have an induced miscarriage at home within the first several weeks of pregnancy, rather than a procedure in a medical facility. In some rural areas doctors are able to prescribe RU-486, the medical abortion drug, remotely (over the phone or via teleconference). This opens up access to medical abortions to women who live prohibitively far from a doctor. With that background, consider what the Oklahoma law does. First, it requires that a doctor be present when the drug is administered, (i.e. the drug can't be administered at home). Second, it requires that the doctor follow FDA protocol for prescribing RU-486. It does seem reasonable, but as Bazelon points out, it's often not how real medicine works. According to Bazelon's article, as many as half or more of all prescriptions are written "off-label," meaning that drugs are prescribed for a purpose other than what they are FDA approved to do. This is generally legal in the U.S., but the Oklahoma law makes it illegal in the case of RU-486.

It is easy enough to write off laws like this as somebody else's problem, the work of radicals in a red state. The Oklahoma legislature is overwhelmingly Republican in both houses. And the Republicans have considerably more party leadership positions, signaling strong party control. It is therefore no surprise, looking at the median voter theorem, that such a seemingly radical bill passed. With only about 25% of the seats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, for instance, it would be nearly impossible for Democrats to push back against the Republican agenda, let alone move forward with their own. The fact that this case has moved up to the Supreme Court provides a needed reminder of the relevance of state legislatures and state laws on a national level. The states are supposed to be able to experimental in their laws, and the multiplicity of choices they make can influence and inform other states' governance and national policy. Here, however, as Linda Greenhouse alluded in the New York Times earlier this month, a challenge to a restrictive state law has provided an opportunity to walk back decades of abortion rights jurisprudence. As Greenhouse puts it, 
"With Justice O’Connor replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., there may no longer be a majority on the court to strike down any burden on access to abortion, even one that is obviously and purposefully “undue.” All that binds the current court to the Casey standard — whatever that standard can be said to mean today — is stare decisis, respect for precedent. As the Roberts court begins Year 9, that may not count for much."
The repercussions of state laws can be felt on a national level, a fact which should be taken account in any good policy analysis.

Works Cited