Susie Tompkins BuellFunding Serious Change(WOMENSENEWS)–My passion for political involvement, and for electing women to office in particular, has been quite a natural unfolding.


The apparel company I started in the 1960s, and eventually sold in 1996, was all about women. The fact that I had two daughters and two nieces played into my interest in the full integration of women into U.S. life.

But it was the example of Ann Richards, the late and great governor of Texas, that first got me focused on women running for–and winning–elective office.

Watching Ann Richards in 1994, as she defended her incumbency against George W. Bush, I saw the urgency and need for female candidates. Ann’s political life also exemplified the joy of politics, if practiced with the right sense of individual flair and unquestionable sincerity. Who can forget her famous line at the ’88 Democratic National Convention, delivered with high humor and impeccable timing against the elder President Bush: "Poor George. He cain’t help it–he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

It became quite natural for me, especially after I sold my business and had more time and money, to begin more actively supporting female candidates. Like many women who are political funders, I began supporting candidates through EMILY’s List, the Washington-based political action committee that supports Democratic pro-choice women running for national office.

EMILY’s List asked me to host a special event on women making history when my home state of California was on the verge of electing its second U.S. senator, Barbara Boxer. That year, 1992, was indeed a watershed for women in our nation’s political history.

Changed by Clinton

But as important as Ann and Barbara have been in my political life, no one equals the impact of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I met her that same year, 1992, when her husband was making his first run for the White House.

Like so many who met Hillary–so many women especially–I wondered, "Wait a minute. Why isn’t she the one who’s running?"

I stayed in close touch with Hillary during the Clinton years in the White House and stepped up both my giving to Democratic causes and my personal involvement in politics. I became active in the party’s Women’s Leadership Forum. I was still rather fresh and new to politics, so I tended to do things a bit differently.

Part of my involvement was to host events for various Democratic candidates and committees in my San Francisco home. As I did more and more fundraisers for and with women, I deepened my belief–which stemmed back to the female culture of my business–that when women get together, whether in business or politics or other aspects of life, things somehow become more soulful, more personal.

And we also get things done.

Training Women to Run

A good example of that is a women’s organization that I support called Emerge America. It is a training program for Democratic women aspiring to run for public office, which started in California. Now, there are affiliates in seven states and appears to be on track to train women in more states in the years to come. As time goes by my conviction only grows that women’s leadership holds great promise for our nation, and for the world.

So it was only natural that I would support Hillary’s run for president full-throttle. Like the candidate herself, and so many others, I put my heart and soul into her historic candidacy.

The fact that Hillary ran so well did not surprise me. But I was dismayed to see the sexism that arose continually along the campaign trail. That Hillary would be called on to withdraw from the Democratic race when it was still so tight was the straw that broke the camel’s back. No one would have asked a man to drop out.

I had to do something in response. I joined with other women to start a new political action committee, WomenCount PAC, which ran ads protesting sexist attacks on Hillary and gained enormous press attention. It has since evolved into a multi-candidate PAC that supports female candidates who champion women’s issues.

We have also formed a nonprofit arm called WomenCount, an online women’s political movement that is a kind of for women. We’ll be creating awareness campaigns and mobilizing women around issues that matter to them as well as around female candidates.

Historic Turning Point

Ultimately, of course, Hillary’s run for president will stand as a turning point in history. Her concession speech and her speech at the Democratic National Convention this summer will both be regarded as milestones not only in women’s political history, but in the political history of our nation.

Even though I was disappointed that Hillary did not win, in time, I came out publicly in support of Sen. Barack Obama. I’m confident he will be a fine president; a transformational figure, to quote Colin Powell. But my passion is and will continue to be the election of women to our highest offices, and I’ll continue to fund that passion.

Recently I made an analogy at a women’s luncheon between government and house management. The political leadership of our government today is about 20 percent female. Imagine a household where 20 percent of the management is female. Imagine decisions around budget, health, schools and community under leadership that’s 20 percent female.

It’s unimaginable.

I’ve run both a business and a household, and I’m here to tell you they, as well as our nation, stand to gain a great deal when at least 50 percent of the leadership is female. I believe we cross a threshold for social change when women are actively involved in leading the way.

That’s why I’m funding serious political change. Too much is at stake, and we’ve come too far to turn back.

Susie Tompkins Buell is a grandmother, mother, wife, philanthropist, activist and fundraiser. Best known as the founder of Esprit de Corp, she is now considered one of the nation’s top political fundraisers and activists and has raised millions for Democratic candidates.

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