“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.”