Short Take: Will Emily Shut Her Purse?

The purpose of Emily’s List is about as clear as it gets.


We elect Democratic pro-choice women to office.

Three criteria for funding in one concise sentence, that they be Democrats, pro-choice and female. Fair enough. This is the glory of our American democracy, that you can support candidates for the reasons that matter to you, good or bad, and Emily’s List has its reasons.

But apparently there’s an asterisk in there somewhere, and an invisible caveat. Maybe I can’t see it because I’m male. Maybe because of the very long list of things about me that make me a pariah to the left, but I suspect it’s because of my liberal leanings of tolerance, civil rights and reason that I can’t see the asterisk and caveat. Fortunately, the New York Times is here to tell me about it.

One of the largest contributors to Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s political rise announced on Tuesday that it would cut off its financial support if the senator continues to refuse to change the Senate’s filibuster rules to allow for passage of far-reaching voting rights legislation.

Emily’s List, the largest funder of female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, made the extraordinary announcement as the Senate barreled toward votes this week on a bill to reverse restrictions on voting passed by a number of Republican-led state legislatures.

Krysten Sinema? She’s a woman. She’s pro-choice. And while her party affiliation is Democrat, enough so that Chuck Schumer is the Majority Leader rather than the kid begging for a shot at the microphone after a press conference, is she Democrat enough for Emily’s List?

“Understanding that access to the ballot box and confidence in election results are critical to our work and our country, we have joined with many others to impress upon Senator Sinema the importance of the pending voting rights legislation in the Senate,” Laphonza Butler, the president of Emily’s List, said in a statement. “So far those concerns have not been addressed.”

To be fair, Emily’s List is entitled to use its funding as it chooses, even if its contributors may not, like me, have seen the asterisk and caveat, and thought they were providing funding to pro-choice women running as Democrats, regardless of their positions on other issues.

Whether the two pending voting bills are critical to “access to the ballot box” is debatable, but Sinema says she support the bills. Her issue is with blowing up the filibuster to enact them, a proposition of significant doubt given the potential that the Democrats might not always be the majority in the Senate.

She added, “Right now, Senator Sinema’s decision to reject the voices of allies, partners and constituents who believe the importance of voting rights outweighs that of an arcane process means she will find herself standing alone in the next election.”

So it’s less a matter of the arguments against busting the filibuster than it is about Sinema breaking ranks from her “allies,” meaning the dark pink money of Emily’s List. Is there no tolerance for reasonable minds to differ in tiny tent of the Dems?

In a statement on Tuesday night, Ms. Sinema noted that the filibuster “has been used repeatedly to protect against wild swings in federal policy, including in the area of protecting women’s health care.”

“Different people of good faith can have honest disagreements about policy and strategy,” she said. “Such honest disagreements are normal, and I respect those who have reached different conclusions on how to achieve our shared goals of addressing voter suppression and election subversion, and making the Senate work better for everyday Americans.”

The natural reaction of pointing out that Senate Republicans have been disingenuous and disciplined in their refusal to break ranks and vote for any Dem proposition has merit. It’s fair to argue that they will not put country above party, and their recalcitrance to break ranks is worthy of note. But if it’s fair to call out the Republicans for their refusal to give fair consideration to any Dem proposals, are the Dems any better for doing the same, and punishing any member who fails to toe the line set by their allies by cutting off their funding?

So now I can see the asterisk and the caveat. Not only does Emily’s List support Democrat pro-choice women, but women who do as they’re told and follow the orthodoxy of the party. This doesn’t strike me as particularly feminist, liberal or Democratic, but then I’m a pariah so what would I know of such things?

Edit: Thanks to Genya, @electionbabe, there may be an answer to the question:

23 thoughts on “Short Take: Will Emily Shut Her Purse?

  1. Bear

    Without going into detail anyone familiar with the history of American politics knows where these litmus tests lead, and it ain’t pretty.

  2. Paleo

    Are the voting bills even constitutional? If the feds are dictating to states the manner in which elections should be held (for example “you must allow mail in voting”) then they’re probably not. Is it possible to know?

    Apparently Georgia has had a statewide election under the new laws. Was anyone disenfranchised by the new regime? Is it possible to know?

    Of course it’s possible to know, but our media won’t tell us. Parroting the rhetoric of the proponents of the bills because it fits their narrative.

    1. Jacob Williams

      The part of the Voting Rights Act that the new legislation seeks to restore was struck down in Shelby County v. Holder; that amounts to section 4b, which sets a formula that determines what states and counties are subject to being overruled. Section 5, which determines what restrictions will apply to those localities remains, but 4b was struck down in a 5-4 decision over the fact that the data used to create the formula was 40 years out of data, and exceeded Congress’s authority to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments. It’s effectively toothless at the moment since the enforcement methods have nothing to be pointed at.

      Since then, even more counties have “bailed out” of coverage, which ceases the requirement for compliance with the Act; I don’t know enough to judge about that, but it sounds like a mess in the making.

  3. chaswjd

    So the next time the Republicans have a majority in Congress and a president in the White House and ram through a piece of anti-abortion legislation on a simple majority vote, what will Emily’s List’s reaction be? “Gee, I am sure glad that we got rid of the filibuster”?

    1. B. McLeod

      The fanatical need to “win” the current kerfluffle, at all costs, displaces any thought as to the future consequences.

  4. Mark Dwyer

    “Are the voting bills even constitutional?”

    Congress can regulate the “times, places and manner” of federal elections. (Article I Section 4). Based on a quick look at the Freedom to Vote Act, that seems to be what its drafters want to do. Even the voting day holiday rule applies only in even-numbered years.

    Nor can I see how enacting a properly updated Voting Rights Act could be unconstitutional, if the original act was not.

    On the merits: some think that Republican challenges to election integrity have created the most fundamental domestic political issue of our time. (Others of course disagree). If those who run Emily’s List choose to add to their endorsement criteria an obligation to do all that it takes to pass the new voting rules, I see no problem.

    1. David

      The problem isn’t with Emily’s List choice of shifting their mission on the fly, except as between donor and donee. The problem is the intolerance of the Democrats for differing views. But if you see no problem, well…

      As for the Freedom to Vote Act, Article I, Section 4 expressly applies to senators and representatives, not presidents, who are not elected in “federal elections” but in state elections for its representatives being sent to represent the state or district at the federal government. So whether Congress’ time and place clause covers handing out water on line aside, let’s not present to wrap the presidential election up in Art. I, Sec. 4.

    2. Dio Gratia

      “…except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” which would seem to capable of derailing the likes of joint federal elections where the Senate Bill SEC. 310. Early voting. (c) Location of polling places. directs to the extent possible proximity to public transportation, availability in rural areas, and college campuses.

  5. orthodoc

    Replies to those seeking legal advice from @ScottGreenfield on Twitter seem to always contain the phrase “I take Paypal”, but perhaps the crowd can source an answer to this one: do donors have a contractual right to have their donations applied to the organization’s stated purposes?
    Sadly, I did not make any donations to Emily’s List, so I don’t know if it, like Trump’s “Official Election Defense Fund”, had a lot of escape clauses in the fine print (which did not stop the Times from complaining about misdirection). But if not, perhaps somebody can have some fun…

  6. Rengit

    I’m surprised NARAL didn’t just tweet by going with “VOTING RIGHTS ARE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS” accompanied by a bunch of clap emojis.

  7. Hunting Guy

    Kyrsten Sinema is my senator. Unlike Mark Kelly, she is doing what the people of Arizona want, not the Democratic Party.

    She has garnered a noticeable amount of GOP and independent support and will probably be re-elected.

    I suspect that she will make up the Emily’s List donations with no trouble.

        1. L. Phillips

          Especially elk between the Mogollon Rim and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Amazing deer on the Parashaunt/Arizona Strip between the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the Arizona/Utah border – if you live long enough to score a tag.

          [Ed. Note: Down, down, down the rabbit hole.]

  8. Hunting Guy

    Turn Out Project.

    “ FIRST: Kyrsten Sinema saved the filibuster, giving McConnell ultimate veto power.

    THEN: Experts said President Biden should EXPEL her from the Democratic Party!

    SO NOW: We’re gathering 50,000 signatures telling President Biden to IMMEDIATELY expel her from the party!

    50,000 Signatures Needed by Midnight: Tell President Biden to expel traitor Kyrsten Sinema from the Democratic party! >>

    Click Here to Add Your Name →
    Kyrsten Sinema has done nothing but ruin Democrats’ plans since we gained the majority.

    She just doomed our voting rights bills. It’s a threat to democracy itself. She must be removed from the party!

    This would be a highly controversial move, so we need a MASSIVE outpouring of public support. Please, will you join other top Democrats and sign before our midnight deadline?

    Click Here to Add Your Name →

    Did you sign?”

  9. Casey Bell

    What amazes me is that there haven’t been any republican senators using their leverage the way that the two democrats (Manchin and Sinema) are doing. With the senate evenly divided, 50-50, each individual senator has way more leverage than when there’s a wider split such as 54-46.

    If I was a republican senator I’d be tempted to tell GOP leaders that I’m not going to vote in lockstep just because they want want me to. I’d let the democrats know that if they made a couple of modest tweaks to some of their bills I’d vote with them. Afterall, what’s the point of running for and winning a senate seat if you’re not going to use the power of your office?

    1. Rengit

      There are a lot of benefits to being in office that require you to do absolutely nothing on any type of legislation remotely controversial. How do you think so many Representatives and Senators are multimillionaires despite spending 15-20 years or more in Congress? And then get even richer when they leave office and enter a consulting or lobbying gig? Why would you risk your seat on controversial legislation when you could just posture, collect the contribution war chest from the DNC/RNC for your campaign, and coast for another decade before really cashing out?

  10. Bryan Burroughs

    I can’t think of anything more feminist than telling a woman shut up and do as she’s told. Good job!

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