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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Emily’s List/Women Vote!

Political leanings: Liberal

Spending target: Undisclosed

Emily’s List and Women Vote! are affiliated political action committees devoted to electing Democratic women candidates who support a legal right to abortion. Both operate from the same offices in Washington, D.C.

Emily’s List was established in 1985. Organized as a 527 committee under the IRS tax code, Emily’s List can raise and spend unlimited amounts. It donates directly to candidates and also bundles contributions by passing on checks from individuals who earmark their gifts for candidates the PAC endorses. It disbursed just under $45 million in the 2016 elections, including $757,000 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It also supported dozens of female Democrats running for Senate and House, as well as many women running for state and local offices.

Women Vote! is a super PAC set up in 2010.  It makes no direct donations to candidates, but can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts on TV ads and other political communications — known as independent expenditures — that call for the victory or defeat of specific candidates. 

In the 2016 elections, Women Vote! raised and spent nearly $37 million. That included a total of more than $33 million in independent political expenditures either supporting Democrats or opposing Republicans for federal office, including nearly $5.6 million supporting Clinton for president and another nearly $6 million opposing Donald Trump.

Emily’s List and Women Vote! rarely oppose Democrats, except in party primaries. In 2016, the super PAC spent only $2 million against Democrats, of which nearly $1.6 million was spent attacking Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Although Sestak supported the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal, Emily’s List endorsed his female opponent, Katie McGinty. She won the primary but lost in the general election to incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, who won reelection in November even though Women Vote! spent more than $3 million trying to defeat him, and Emily’s List funneled $753,245 to McGinty’s campaign. 

Women Vote! will attack candidates who favor restrictions on abortions, even if they are women. In 2016, one of its top targets was Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a Republican who opposed legal abortion except in cases of rape, incest or medical emergency. Women Vote! spent nearly $3.2 million to defeat her, and she lost to Democrat Maggie Hassan, who had been endorsed by Emily’s List. The PAC also directed $561,221 directly to Hassan’s campaign.

Women Vote! began the 2018 election cycle with a flurry of more than $4.7 million in independent spending (as of June 19, 2018), mostly supporting Democratic women in a number of House primaries.

Almost half of that total — $2.1 million — went to support a single candidate, Sara Jacobs, running in a crowded primary to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa in California’s 49th Congressional District. One Women Vote! TV ad disparaged her male opponents as “old boys” like Donald Trump, whose image was featured.

Jacobs, 29, is the granddaughter of Irwin Jacobs, a billionaire Democratic donor who had given a total of $1.25 million to Women Vote! as of June 11, making him the group’s largest contributor for the 2018 cycle through that date. His granddaughter, however, lost her race, placing third in the June 5 primary. The top two vote-getters — Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin — will face each other in the general election.