About four months ago, I started thinking about what I would do when the 2020 election, in which I served as Co-Chair of Finance for Donna Deegan, the Democratic nominee for FL CD 4, was over. I personally needed a better plan than I had in 2016 or 2018, both of which involved day-drinking rosé. I started talking to some of the lovely humans I met, mostly virtually, across Florida throughout the campaign about starting a federal PAC, secretly hoping someone would tell me that it was a terrible idea. Instead, I got a lot of encouragement, ideas, and offers of assistance. There are a lot of us across the State who were extremely disappointed with the Florida outcome, determined to do better in 2022, all trying to figure out what to do that maximizes our particular skills and connections. Several people that I have spoken to agree with me that, as long as we remain transparent with one another and forget about protecting our own turf, there’s no such thing as duplication of efforts. Well, okay, maybe four different organizations don’t really have to be sending postcards to intermittent voters. But in terms of advocating for policy change and supporting candidates whose policies align with ours, there can’t be too many of us.
Okay, so we’re doing this
Women United for Florida Families–WUFF PAC has a bank account, the first FEC filing under our belt, a Treasurer (thank you Mindy Barker), a logo, and if you are reading this, an active website. There is also a donation page, which I cannot stress enough. What I want to outline in this initial blog post are two things: Why me, why this? And secondly, lessons learned from 2020, my first election as an active campaign participant.
The power of women’s movements to change the world
Since I moved from the suburbs of NYC to Jacksonville in 2011, my life has been about creating communities of women. I first joined a women’s giving circle in Jacksonville and quickly rose to its leadership ranks. From there, I joined the board of Philanos, the largest network of US giving circles, which supports women’s funds, foundations and giving circles, all of which do some or all of their grantmaking collectively (totaling 79 organizations and 18,000 women strong, and growing 20% or so each year). This propelled me into a consulting project with leaders of 4 other giving circle networks (the movement is 70% women), to collaboratively design an infrastructure organization to support the entire field, which includes 12 other networks, and hundreds of un-networked independent giving circles. This project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as many other foundations that the team solicited, resulted in the launching of Philanthropy Together in April, 2020 with an initial $2M grant from the Gates Foundation.
Alongside of all that, I was on the founding board of the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance, a group of Community Foundations, women’s foundations and women’s giving circles who came together in 2014 to see if we could use our common voice and resources to move the needle for women and girls in Florida. FWFA, which I co-chaired for two years, went on to identify appropriate think tanks and fund the six research reports that provide the data, the insights and the policy recommendations that will guide WUFF PAC. I met women across the state who care about the issues that Florida’s women and girls face and though not all of them are comfortable talking about politics, they will all engage around policy.
I’ve spoken across the State about this research, and, because the reports are glum, I don’t get invited back a lot. I generally preface these remarks with my favorite thing that Gloria Steinem has said so far: “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” When folks ask me where the news is better for women, I usually say something like “an M State where it’s cold in the winter and folks pay taxes. Pick one: Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts.”
WUFF PAC is my attempt to leverage the research I helped to fund, my contacts around the State and my understanding of how women’s movements can be a change agent to bring about a more just Florida. My, I believe, achievable goal, is to have panels of women in the 16 Districts now held by Republicans (and especially in the 13 held by members of the Florida Kracken Caucus who signed onto the Texas lawsuit to overturn the Michigan Presidential results and/or voted to overturn the election after an assault on Congress) to interview challengers, with a view toward endorsement and support. I am not naïve about who we are likely to support in the short term, and I am myself a life-long Democrat. However, I am determined to keep this effort non-partisan and issues-based, and to encourage women from across the political spectrum who embrace the policy agenda to participate. Once upon a time, there were pro-choice Republicans, and maybe in a couple of election cycles that will be a thing again. We could support a Green Party candidate in the right district, a Libertarian who is willing to keep her hands out of our medical choices—so many things are possible. In a back-and-forth about some upcoming research, the CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Dr. C. Nicole Mason signed off with this: “It’s an exciting time—so much change is possible.”
Lessons from the 2020 Campaign
- The Power of small-dollar recurring donations. Donna’s campaign did a whole bunch of things everyone said were impossible: qualified by petition (8,000+) before the pandemic, amassed a list of thousands of volunteers, moved 90K votes to our side, outperformed any other district relative to 2016 for Joe Biden, and swept the precincts in Duval County. We also raised over $1M, mostly from recurring donations under $200. So while WUFF PAC will be most grateful to those who can write the big checks ($5K annually per human is the max), we will also encourage small monthly donations as a way of building the 2022 election cycle war chest, and building influence and power for this movement. This will also enable us to include so many voices in each Congressional District when it comes time to interview and support qualified women candidates.
- Debunking the myth of the institutional supports for women candidates. Donna Deegan, a 25-year on-air news anchor and 3-time breast cancer survivor, with mad communications skills and nearly universal name recognition, posed the most significant threat to our entrenched two-term back-bench Congressman of his three opponents. Wouldn’t you think the PACs and other pro-democracy organizations would climb all over that and support her? I did, and I was wrong. Our opponent had donations from dozens of individuals and a bunch of corporate PACs. We had thousands of individual donations, and two Unions support Donna. All of these institutional support organizations have a crystal ball that measures two things: What is the Cook Report rating for your district, and how much dough have you raised? I remain firmly convinced that these crystal balls are fundamentally cracked, and also self-fulfilling. Remember that Emily stands for: Early Money Is Like Yeast, it makes the dough rise. Some early and considerable support could have made a difference in our race, and likely in others.
- We should have been bolder on policy and connected it to candidacy. In 2016, Floridians of all stripes voted overwhelmingly to grant voting rights to previously incarcerated citizens, a bi-partisan initiative that was supported by millions of dollars in PR. Our Governor and his minions in the state legislature have spent four years fighting the clear will of the people on this issue. In 2020, by almost the same 61% margin, Floridians supported raising the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025. In both elections, up to 15% of those folks also voted for state and federal legislators who don’t believe in any of that. Many of them will actively work to undermine these initiatives. I met Donna Deegan when we were both advocating to put Medicaid Expansion on the 2020 ballot, and we bonded for life. Tragically, the polling on that didn’t hold up, and the hospitals across Florida didn’t invest. In hindsight, we probably could have gotten in passed in a Covid election with a fraction of the multi-Million PR budget that was thought necessary at the time.
These are the issues and lessons that inform the mission, vision and direction of Women United for Florida Families (WUFF PAC). I invite you to join us on this journey to a more just Florida for women and their families.