Pro-life candidates struggle against better-funded rivals, but sometimes prevail.
WASHINGTON – As a lobbyist for the Susan B. Anthony List, Marilyn Musgrave has learned to make do with less — a lot less. The pro-life organization has raised roughly six times less money in the 2013-2014 election cycle than its pro-choice rival Emily’s List, according to federal financial campaign documents.
To overcome the financial disparity, Susan B. Anthony List officials use creative ways to shape the outcome of key congressional elections in November. This week, the group is serving as a co-host for rallies in three states – Colorado, North Carolina, and Arkansas — in which a sitting Democratic senator opposes or is presumed to oppose legislation that would extend legal protections to the unborn after 20 weeks. By highlighting the senators’ opposition to the bill at open-air events in cities, the organization hopes to receive free publicity courtesy of local media.
“The ground game is where it’s at. That’s cheaper than TV,” Musgrave said, referring to costly television commercials.
Musgrave knows whereof she speaks. The Republican served as the U.S. Representative from the 4th congressional District in Colorado for six years (2003 to 2009). As a Pentecostal, too, she weeps at the thought her organization could use more money to help prevent the killing of unborn humans.
“My heart cries so much about the amount of money that Planned Parenthood and NARAL have, but we know Americans are with us about (opposing) taxpayer funding of abortion or 20-week abortion bans. I wish (pro-life) people knew about how faithful and strong some of our pro-life heroes are,” Musgrave said in an interview last week.
Musgrave’s upset is rooted in financial reality. Through July 31, the Susan B. Anthony List received at least $314,993 in donations. Emily List, which supports pro-choice Democratic female candidates, received at least $1,934,980. The figures, which do not include donations less than $200, come courtesy of opensecrets.org.
But the effect of money on the outcome of a congressional election is uncertain rather than determinative.
Witness the candidacy of Alex Sink, a female Democrat who ran for an open seat in a congressional district based in Tampa Bay, Florida in March.
Sink and her campaign had few traditional weaknesses. She was a former chief financial officer for the state and ran in a district that President Obama captured in both 2008 and 2012. Emily’s List poured $132,883 into Sink’s candidacy, a sum greater than the amount the Susan B. Anthony List has given to all of its candidates combined this election cycle. Indeed, on March 14 PolitiFact showed that Sink’s campaign outspent her rival, David Jolly, $6.29 million to $6.11 million.
As late as a few weeks before the special election, several polls showed Sink ahead. But Jolly’s pollster discovered that Sink’s pro-choice absolutism was a major weakness. Some Democratic female voters disliked Sink’s opposition to a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and support for taxpayer funding of abortion. Jolly pulled ahead after his campaign attacked Sink as an extremist on abortion. On election day, Jolly prevailed.
“It was inspiring,” Musgrave said of Jolly’s victory. “Women made it to the polls and they showed that not all Democratic women are pro-abortion.”
Yet few in the political world would turn down a legitimate political donation; the aphorism that the late California Democrat Jesse Unruh coined – “money is the mother’s milk of politics” – is widely endorsed.
Greater campaign cash could help the Susan B. Anthony List in light-blue Democratic states such as Colorado. The organization spent roughly $50,000 to air a web-only ad this month that criticized Senator Mark Udall for supporting taxpayer funding of abortion and legislation that would undermine a parental-consent law for minors, according to Susan B. Anthony List spokeswoman Mallory Quigley.
The ads provide indirect help to pro-life Representative Cory Gardner who hopes to unseat Udall in November. By contrast, the group spent roughly $100,000 to air ads last month that attacked Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina for her opposition to the 20-week ban.
“We have a finite amount of money,” Musgrave said. “Hopefully the ads will help Cory.”
Mark Stricherz is based in Washington. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.