Magazine article The American Prospect

Emily's List Hissed: Fellow Democrats Criticize the Women Candidates' PAC. (Gazette)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Emily's List Hissed: Fellow Democrats Criticize the Women Candidates' PAC. (Gazette)

Article excerpt

IN EARLY AUGUST, A MONTHS-long whispering campaign against Emily's List hit the pages of Roll Call. In an article headlined "Making Enemies," four anonymous Democratic consultants and operatives took turns criticizing the 17-year-old political action committee (PAC)--the largest source of Democratic hard money around--for wasting Democrats' time, money and effort by forcing competitive primary races that the group was bound, from the outset, to lose.

That same day, CNN Crossfire co-host and former Clinton adviser Paul Begala took the campaign onto the air. "[T]he feminist fund-raising group Emily's List is in a lot of trouble right now for taking on my pal from the Clinton administration, Rahm Emanuel, and Michigan Democrat John Dingell," Begala said, according to a show transcript. "Now, I wonder if Emily's List contributors wouldn't rather see their money spent helping, say, Mary Landrieu, one of the few women in the Senate, keep her seat. Well, no dice, says Emily's List. Senator Landrieu, you see, supported the ban on partial-birth abortion. Doesn't matter that her Republican opponents support a total ban on all abortions. Wasn't it Santayana who said: `Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts after you've lost sight of your aim'?"

Robert Novak brightened as Begala twisted the knife. "Paul," said the conservative Crossfire commentator, "when I see a Clintonite like yourself attacking the Emily's List, I love it. Trouble in the leper colony."

Trouble indeed. Republicans have vowed to pour money into Louisiana to unseat Landrieu, who was narrowly elected in 1996 with the backing of Emily's List, in order to retake the Senate. Emily's List, which supports only pro-choice Democratic women, announced in 1997 that it would no longer fund Landrieu thanks to her vote for an amended ban on the so-called partial-birth procedure. So Landrieu, the first woman senator from the South elected in her own right, will need all the Democratic Party dollars she can get. She's forged new alliances within the party, endorsed Dingell (who also supported the ban on partial-birth abortion) in the Michigan contest and joined a group of prominent Democratic women who held a Washington fundraiser for him last April.

But some Democratic operatives who have followed the controversy around Emily's List believe that most of it can be traced back to the Emanuel campaign and Emanuel's Clinton-administration allies. Instead of ceding the working-class Chicago District to the well-financed, well-connected former Clinton adviser, Emily's List backed his challenger, Nancy Kaszak, and ran tough ads against him. All told, the primary cost upward of $2 million, making it one of the most expensive in the city's history.

"I think the big problem and the reason we are seeing these criticisms is because we ran in two primary races against Democratic men, Rahm Emanuel and John Dingell, who have a tremendous number of friends in the press and inside Washington," says Ellen R. Malcolm, founder and president of Emily's List. "Paul can take care of his pals and Emily's List will take care of the gals."

FOUNDED IN 1985 TO ELECT PRO-choice Democratic women to public office, Emily's List identifies promising candidates and raises early money for them. But in an environment where massive PACs back slates of candidates, primary elections have been transformed into something more like European-style multiparty elections, with Emily's List playing the role of Women's Party. Emily's List generates criticism when its goal of electing pro-choice Democratic women runs counter to the broader Democratic party's goal of minimizing pricey, politically bruising primaries in order to retake the House and keep the Senate.

Do the toughest primaries drain funds and leave winners more vulnerable, for example, to anti-choice Republicans? In several of the highest profile contests this year, the answer has been no. …

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