(CNSNews.com) – Complaining about what they agreed was a lack of women’s participation in American politics, panelists on a forum held at the Federal Election Commission headquarters (FEC) in Washington on Tuesday suggested a number of solutions.
The solutions ranged from “dismantling” the economic system to public financing of campaigns and imposing quotas to increase the number of elected female politicians.
The forum, hosted by FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. Though it was paid for by the independent agency and hosted in FEC facilities, the Democratic commissioner was the sole organizer of the event and selected all of the panelists herself.
Ravel, who has served as the current chair of the FEC for four months, recently said she was going to use her position to focus on “getting information out” to voters. She noted that the goal of the forum was to “contemplate solutions to the underrepresentation of women in the political process” and to look at “the challenges faced by women in running for office.”
“If I was really playing God, I’d probably have to completely, like, dismantle our economic system, that doesn’t value women’s work in the same way it does men’s,” said Adrienne Kimmel, one of the forum panelists. Kimmel also serves as the executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which describes itself as working to “advance women’s equality and representation in American politics.”
Kimmel suggested that women have a diminished role in politics because they are also excluded from the top levels of the business world. “Women candidates are still often excluded from high-dollar fundraising circles. In part that could be because they’re also excluded from boardrooms,” she said.
“Politics is one of the oldest old boys club we have in our country… The same is true of the financial circles that contribute to candidates,” Kimmel continued.
Jill Lepore, a professor at Harvard University, went further, stating that the dearth of female politicians was a cultural problem. “Holding an elected office is a job. The conditions of employment are terrible for people trying to raise children. They’re only possibly bearable in a very traditional marriage in which you are a father,” Lepore said.
"The more children a woman has, the more likely it is she has been forced to drop out of her profession,” Lepore went on.
Pippa Norris, another Harvard professor, said that America should look to countries that impose quotas that require that a certain number of women must be elected as examples of how to model its electoral system.
“There are a hundred countries with quotas around the world in different forms. And they work if you have enforcement, if you have a good target, and if you have zippering, so that women aren’t just stuck at the bottom of the list,” Norris said. Zippering is the randomization of the order of names on a ballot.
In addition to quotas, Norris said, campaign finance laws could be used to encourage women to run for office. In particular, she suggested, limits should be placed on “donors and caps on parties in terms of how much they can spend, and caps on candidates.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such limits to be unconstitutional in its 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, so Imposing expenditure limits on federal candidates or political parties would require a constitutional amendment.
“I know in America that sounds as though it’s a radical revolutionary – I won’t say left-wing agenda – but nevertheless brand new idea,” Norris went on. “If you’re in Britain and you’re running as a candidate of any party, you can’t really spend that much money – $15,000 to $20,000 maximum, basically… You can’t buy ads, so that gets rid of that. You shove a pamphlet through people’s doors, that’s it, and then you meet people,” she said.
Public financing is another important feature of campaign financing in other countries, Norris said. “Whether or not it’s targeted towards gender is one issue,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be. If you have public funding in your system, so the candidate doesn’t raise money, but the party gets some state subsidies – and this has become more and more common – it’s one of the big policy changes in Europe… It’s very popular in many countries around the world,” she concluded.
Darren Rosenblum, a law professor at Pace University, agreed with Norris. “Just to sum up for people in the United States who are really unfamiliar with quotas even though they are in place in over a hundred countries in the world, quotas are mechanisms to encourage women’s representation. And there are quotas that are very strict, that actually require seats, and I think that’s what most people think about when they hear quotas – that a certain number of representatives in a legislature will be of a certain sex.”
The commission’s three Republican members were in attendance to watch at least a portion of the forum. However, the commission’s other two Democrats failed to reply to messages asking if they also planned to attend.