The discord between EMILY’s List and the progressive left

This is an interesting read…

“We have two very compatible set of goals, but different sets of goals,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America, which has found itself on the opposing side of EMILY’s List in recent years. “We are focused on electing progressives to office, and they are focused on electing pro-choice women. It’s a Venn diagram, and there is a big swath of women in the middle.”

Although some progressives would like EMILY’s List to alter its criteria for endorsements to include factors behind gender and reproductive rights, others say the group could simply make better decisions about where it spends its resources. Why, they ask, should the group get involved in places where there already is a progressive Democratic incumbent running, even if that incumbent is male, as was the case this year in Hawaii and has been true in other races around the country? They point as well to progressive female candidates who could have benefited from a more robust involvement by EMILY’s List, including Shenna Bellows, running for U.S. Senate in Maine, and Amanda Curtis, running for U.S. Senate in Montana.

“The part I don’t get about their decision-making is how they decide which races to target,” said Mike Lux, a Washington, D.C-based progressive political consultant. “They don’t get involved in every race, and for some of these races, they could easily see what other progressive allies are doing and be willing to back up.”

Lori Saldaña was one candidate who says she could have benefited from more EMILY’s List support. A self-described “champion of choice,” she squared off unsuccessfully in 2012 against the more conservative Democrat Scott Peters in California’s 52nd Congressional District. And although EMILY’s List backed her, it did so only half-heartedly, she says, because she could not raise enough money.

“It was all about the money: What you could bring in on your own before they would help you out at their end,” she said.

Saldana said that in one conversation with EMILY’s List officials, they pointed to the gangbuster fundraising that Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, was doing in her congressional race in Iowa.

“I thought, ‘OK, I am not married to a Cabinet member. I would love to do a fundraiser in Washington, but I don’t have those connections,’” Saldaña said.

“I wouldn’t even say they supported me. Everything was met with resistance because we weren’t wealthy enough.

“To me,” Saldaña added, “It’s the old 99 percent argument. They are for the 1 percent of women candidates.”


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20 thoughts on “The discord between EMILY’s List and the progressive left

  1. Zach, appreciate your fine work on this.

    FWIW, link below is from 2006:

    “NARAL lying for Lieberman”

    I guess it should be no surprise that Nancy Keenan and the national NARAL PAC are lying to Connecticut voters on behalf of Joe Lieberman. They endorsed him even after he voted for cloture on Samuel Alito and came out against CT NARAL’s signature issue of last year (trying to require all publicly funded hospitals to provide Plan B contraception to rape victims — Joe famously said that after being raped they were free to take a “short ride” to another hospital if they wanted to).

  2. I’m not a fan of EMILY’s List at all for several reasons:

    – They’re only interested in supporting pro-choice Democratic women who have tons of money and political connections. They’ve done little or nothing to support pro-choice Democratic women like Lori Saldaña, Kelly Westlund, and Zephyr Teachout because they actually stand for real Democratic values and don’t have long lists of political cronies.
    – They’ve been known to use dirty tactics (such as using Elizabeth Warren’s name and likeness to promote Katherine Clark, a Democratic congressional candidate in Massachusetts who was running in a competitive primary, despite the fact that Warren didn’t endorse a candidate in the primary)
    – They’ve been known to back economic conservatives (such as Colleen Hanabusa in a U.S. Senate primary in Hawaii) and even candidates who are opposed to LGBT rights (such as Donna Mercado Kim in a U.S. House primary in Hawaii)
    – They’re a single-issue SuperPAC (specifically, reproductive rights) with considerable influence over the Democratic Party, which means that issues like workers’ rights, government transparency, voting rights, and other important issues take a backseat to social issues within the party.
    – They’ve been known to back candidates who are completely unopposed (such as Melissa Sargent in a Wisconsin State Assembly race this year).
    – They’re just as bad as the Koch Brothers when it comes to money in politics.

  3. I dunno. Women’s issues have been sold down the river time and again by both Progressive and Democratic groups, so I applaud there’s a strong organization dedicated to electing Pro-Choice Women. In fact, I was told on this Progressive blog last fall that my right to choice was less important than repealing Act 10 because Act 10 is an economic issue and therefore I should support Kathleen Vinehout versus Mary Burke. Well, reproductive rights is an economic issue.

    Election wins is a key metric for this group and doubtless drives their fundraising pitch. So judgement calls are probably made about winnable races and winning candidates. Do some good candidates lose out? Probably. Is this consistent with other political fundraising groups? Yes. Is Emily’s List being targeted here for their focus on reproductive health? Hmmmm.

    1. EmmaR,

      ” Is Emily’s List being targeted here for their focus on reproductive health? ”

      Are you going to answer that question or just leave it out there as a free floating, generalized smear?

      1. It’s a question, Steve. We should all question the corporate media outlets from the Daily Beast to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal a great deal more, non? Another question (gasp). Feel free to answer or not.

        1. There are quotes from progressive folks throughout the piece. Do you think they’re unwittingly participating in a covert attack on reproductive rights? That’s a question.

          1. Covert, no. Some of the quotes are from left out candidates, some from rival organizations. I think every decision of who to fund and who not to fund produces winners and losers and the fur flies. I also think it’s wise to read across multiple publications and reporters. And then you begin to wonder whether there’s a story here or whether an organization who supports candidates the majority of Progressives agree on the majority of the time (I’m paraphrasing Senator Warren), hasn’t really been singled out. After all isn’t the so-called news angle here really kind of Onionesque: “National Progressive Political Fund-raiser Acts Suspiciously Like Other Progressive Political Fundraisers”?

            1. But you suggested maybe Emily’s List was being targeted for their focus on reproductive health. Targeted by whom? The Daily Beast? DFA? The PCCC? You wondered this out loud so I’d like to hear more of your thoughts.

                1. You didn’t answer me, which is your prerogative. I’ve just noticed a pattern in your comments ever since you called me a misogynist last year after I posted the ” Burkeing Bad ” piece calling Mary Burke an heiress. You’re kind of hair trigger with that sort of thing, which makes me wonder who you are and what you’re really up to. Hmmmmmm.

                  1. I’m just one of the rare female commenters to this site (not hard to figure out why since last fall) and I just happen to be unintimidated and unfazed by disagreement. As I said, see you the next time you dislike one of my comments.

                    1. For all you know, eh? This presumes your knowledge is large and multitudes are contained within. Sorry, too easy. We’re in a big tent and disagreement is just the norm and it’s healthy. Cheer up – change is in the air for Wisconsin.

            2. Emma, perhaps folks are questioning what EMILY’s List is doing because of this:

              Why, they ask, should the group get involved in places where there already is a progressive Democratic incumbent running, even if that incumbent is male, as was the case this year in Hawaii and has been true in other races around the country? They point as well to progressive female candidates who could have benefited from a more robust involvement by EMILY’s List, including Shenna Bellows, running for U.S. Senate in Maine, and Amanda Curtis, running for U.S. Senate in Montana.

              The article I provided a link to also notes that in the past EMILY’s List has endorsed more moderate/conservative Democratic women candidates over more progressive male candidates simply because they were women.

              As someone who wants to see as many progressives as possible get elected, I kinda have a problem with a liberal group working to elect moderate or conservative Democrats over more progressive Democrats.

  4. I’m not familiar with Emily’s List, but in terms of the “heavy-lifting” on choice, my understanding is that there are two central issues.

    1. Persuading women who have had abortions to disclose that.

    I think what’s caught a lot of us by surprise is how fast public opinion on gay rights has shifted. People I respect say the rapid shift is a result of so many LGBT’s “coming out.”

    2. Acting as clinic escorts.

    A lot of the forced birth types hang out at abortion clinics and try to intimidate women who go there. @ClinicEscort is someone I have a lot of respect for. She rolls up her sleeves and “escorts” women into and out of the clinics.

    Would like to know if Emily’s List is “out front,” supporting those kinds of actions.

    1. John, they’re very focused on a mission to put pro-choice women into office and their brief is fund-raising, candidate development, research and GOTV. Broad missions sometimes lack focus and drain resources – look at what’s happened to the Greater Milwaukee Y for a local example. Senator Warren evidently isn’t too fussed. She’s fund-raising for Emily’s List this fall. But then the Senator never struck me as holding the unrealistic notion that support of a candidate or organization must be based on 100 percent agreement on their policy positions. Again, I bring up echoes of the dialog on this blog with regards to Mary Burke. I would say the central issue to reproductive health is availability – we’re that close to losing our rights in many states including Wisconsin. The issues you referenced are important too.

      1. While Sen. Warren’s not nearly as bad as most of the Democratic party, her support for Emily’s List does nothing to quiet my concerns.

        “Why Did Elizabeth Warren Pick a “Pay For” That Would Never Pass for Student Loan Reform Bill?”

        You wrote: “I would say the central issue to reproductive health is availability.”


        You wrote: “– we’re that close to losing our rights in many states including Wisconsin.”

        Don’t agree.

        Reasonable people can disagree about how many poor and middle class women don’t have realistic access to an abortion, even in states where it’s legal. I would guess it’s close to half the women in the U.S. The wingnuts war on contraception is just fueling the problem.

        “Draining resources,” is exactly what I’m afraid Emily’s List “fund raising,” is doing to NARAL, PP, and other abortion rights groups. “Candidate development” and “research,” both strike me as “broad missions” that “lack focus.” Hope I’m wrong about both.

        IMHO persuading older, affluent couples to go public with their decision to abort a fetus is the best GOTV. It’s also the best way to shift public opinion. I think their husbands should accompany them.

        I’m not happy about that. I don’t think those women should have to disclose confidential medical procedures, but Roe v. Wade was in ’73. Besides public opinion, I don’t see any other explanation for the roll back in abortion rights.

        Is the success of Emily’s List fundraising due in part to easing the guilt of older couples, who do not want to disclose that decades ago, they had an abortion?

        1. I’m the wrong person to debate on student loan reform. I’m of the school of thought that it’s a massive subsidy driving up costs at colleges who in turn spend like drunken sailors on everything but teaching. Dump it, replace it with a no strings attached grant program based on need and watch the costs come barreling down (and crazy high administrative salaries end). As an added benefit, for-profit education would mostly become extinct.

          Probably the situation with Emily’s List and similar groups is no different than other clusters of like-minded Progressive organizations. Much ado about nothing. Just because something appears on a Democratic-leaning site or blog doesn’t mean it’s free of agenda politics.

          I can tell you the PP clinic in my area no longer can perform procedures since the new law, so I believe women in the surrounding area must travel up to two hours. Not as big a deal for affluent women but much more difficult for poor women as they must take time off, find childcare, etc. so I disagree with your assessment of Wisconsin.

          We all have different views on the pro-choice side and I think your idea is very popular among millenial women wishing to de-mystify the procedure. Regardless of how we get there, we share the goal of keeping choice legal and safe.

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