Women business PAC: Committee raising funds to promote female owners' agenda

Emily Groen
December 10, 2007
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Local women business owners are trying their hand in politics heading into the 2008 campaign season.

Launched in February, the Indiana Woman Business Owner's Political Action Committee will raise money to promote political candidates who champion femaleowned businesses.

"The purpose is to support candidates ... that seek to protect and develop women-owned and minorityowned business," said PAC Chairwoman Billie Dragoo, founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based medical staffing company Repucare.

Its mission is simple, she said: "to advance the agenda of ... women business owners [in Indiana] through advocacy, information and networking."

Hoosier members of the National Association of Women Business Owners founded the PAC because they wanted to do more than hire a lobbyist to promote the agenda of women- and minority-owned businesses in the state.

Sandy Mickel, an attorney at Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller LLP, thinks the PAC will complement work already done by lobbyists.

Led by a board comprised of five Republicans, five Democrats and five independents, the PAC represents women in all professions and at all levels of ownership. NAWBO members must own at least 50 percent of a business.

"This makes [the IWBO] different because there's not one like it in the state of Indiana," Dragoo said. "There are PACs for specific industries, such as women in accounting, but not one for all women business owners."

Representing such a broad group can be challenging, but it is important work, said Kevin Hughes, who lobbies for small business owners in his role as state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"The way [public] policy is crafted can directly affect businesses," Hughes said. "Small business owners are very busy running their ... businesses [and] keeping their doors open. There are so many challenges that they don't have time often to lend their voice to the political debate."

The Indiana Women Business Owner's PAC seeks to give its members a voice.

"We support candidates who support [our] goals," Dragoo said. "...We look at every legislator and ... determine how to use [the PAC's] dollars."

One of the PAC's goals is to give women easier access to capital. Another is making health care available and affordable to woman-owned businesses.

"We spend an enormous amount of money [on health care] each month-that's why I'm so focused on this," Dragoo said, speaking about her firm.

The PAC will use a detailed process to score the political office holders and financial support given will reflect those scores, Dragoo said.

Organizers also plan to make legislators aware of women's economic power, she said. "Women represent 83 percent of the buying power in this country."

In 2006, women owned at least half of 197,000 privately held firms in Indiana, according to estimates by the Center for Women's Business Research. Those companies generated nearly $35 billion in sales and employed 255,000 people.

Like all PACs, the local committee must register with the Federal Election Commission, report who contributes money and how donations are spent, in accordance with federal disclosure laws.

PACs tend to be influential in elections, said Bruce Stinebrickner, chairman of the political science department at DePauw University. In Indiana, hundreds of such committees contributed $2.3 million in 2005 to political candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Despite the crowded playing field, success for the IWBO is possible, said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J.

Groups like Emily's List-a nationwide PAC based in Washington, D.C., which aids pro-choice Democratic female candidates-have helped elect women to congress for 20 years, she said.

Larger, more established PACs have millions of paying members, making them an effective force in a political campaign, but Harrison says money is just one element of a PAC's potential.

"The formula for success depends on what [a PAC] is seeking to accomplish," she said. "Some [PACs] pop up in one electoral cycle, one race, issue or candidate, and may fade away. Others have been around for decades. It all depends on its goals, its membership and the level of [financial] support."

The IWBO PAC is still lining up members and support.

Its inaugural luncheon in February attracted more than 100 business owners and supporters, both men and women, and raised $8,000. About 35 people attended a second event Nov. 20, donating another $2,200.

Proceeds from the fund-raising events, which will be held about four times a year, will be used together with membership dues for future state campaigns. There is no set membership fee, though; IWBO will accept any contribution.

Money raised will be used to develop and maintain the PAC's Web site, which will feature informational newsletters, and to develop blast e-mails that will keep members upto-date on bills the PAC is tracking.

Although long-term fund-raising goals aren't yet set, IWBO member Sandy Bickel is sure of one thing: "We want to raise as much [money] as we can."

Dragoo is hopeful that the over 200,000 women business owners in the state will contribute to the PAC.

"Our goal is to receive at least $100 from each business, which would bring $2 million in our pot," she said.

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