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Q&A: Study finds women in Illinois donate to political campaigns less than in other states

Connie Romanus, president of the League of Women Voters Greater Peoria.
Connie Romanus, president of the League of Women Voters Greater Peoria.

Illinois ranks among the lowest states for percentage of women who donate to political campaigns.

A study by the Center for American Women and Politics found women account for 17% of political donations in Illinois. The study also found women give disproportionately to women candidates.

The study found that women candidates rely more on small donations and are less likely to be able to fund their own campaigns.

WCBU’s Camryn Cutinello spoke with Connie Romanus, president of the League of Women Voter Greater Peoria, on whether this means fewer women candidates successfully run for office in Illinois.

Have less women been elected in Illinois because there are less women donors?

I think that's certainly a possibility. I think people need to, there's ways to support a candidate besides financial. Financials [are] really important when you're trying to get your name out there and recognized. But I mean just going door to door with flyers, helping arrange a coffee or some other small venue for a candidate, writing postcards [and] having a yard sign, all of those things are way to support a candidate with maybe not going outside your financial comfort.

Do you think women are maybe more inclined to those other sorts of methods?

We sure know how to network, whether it's with our church group or school group or neighborhood or other social organizations that we belong in, the workplace, trying to find ways to network and spread that vote, social media.

Illinois is kind of, has often been labeled as this progressive states, why in a bluer state, would women be donating less?

Well, I think to certainly the economy. It depends on, if you're a single parent, with the increased prices of gas, it's probably a little better than it was but still not great. Groceries, you're seeing sticker shock in a variety of places. And if people took out loans during the pandemic, you're seeing higher interest rates. So I think all of those things are going to factor into the amount of, if you want to call it, disposable income, that someone might set aside for that. And, it's not for a need, necessarily. Well, it is for need, it's for need to be better represented by a woman, and to have our issues that may be a little bit different, come to light. Certainly, the League of Women Voters in U.S. has long lobbied for campaign finance reform, and for more transparency and disclosure. And small steps have been made. But there's still a lot of work there. And I think that would help women candidates as well.

We talked about the small donations adding up, but do they really make a difference in the scheme of these larger Super Political Action Committees and stuff like that; can grassroots funding still make a dent?

Well, the super PACs you bring up, that's huge. And the amount of monies, in the article that you, the study you cited, you had quite a few examples of the amounts raised over a certain period of time and and dispersed. And we're talking billions of dollars here, not just you know, thousands or millions. So they aren't going to probably make a huge difference, maybe for some of those big super PACs, but you got to try. I think you really have to try and get out there and see what happens. I mean, we have women on the county board, we have women on our Peoria City Council and Pekin council, and the mayor is a woman. So we have women represented in local government. But I think we can increase this.

It impacts both women and people of color, what's needed in this state to get that support for women and people of color candidates?

Well, one of the things that I think is that we're hearing a little bit about in several states, few states have gone to is ranked choice voting. And I think that is a real opportunity that has shown that women are elected more in that type of voting, as well as minorities, that can be a huge impact. Here in Peoria, we don't have rank choice voting, but we have cumulative voting on our city council for the large positions. And that's a little bit like that. And we do have good diversity there both with women and people of color on our city council.

We have primary coming up in March general in a little over a year away, what's happening right now in in the League of Women Voters to prepare?

Well, our voter services co-chairs, Eileen Steed And Roberta Parks, are busy with their committee. We're waiting to see who the candidates are, filing dates are coming close, but planning to do as many candidate forums as we can in the Tri-County area. So, we cover Townsville, Woodford and Peoria County. So that's a big area. And we want to be sure we can educate voters, let them have a chance to come out and hear their candidates. Last year, we live streamed several of our forums and posted them on our website and our Facebook page. And that was a great access. We got a lot of traffic there. So, I'm sure that will be part of our plan again, because it will be reach a greater audience.

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Camryn Cutinello is a reporter at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@ilstu.edu.