There will be a lot of talk between now and Election Day about the gender gap in the presidential race, but there's another political arena where women lag behind men: campaign donations.
About a quarter, or 26 percent, of all the contributions to candidates, PACs and party committees in the 2010 elections came from women, according to a new report called Vote With Your Purse. That's down 5 percentage points from 2008 and 4 points from 2006.
"It's not that women don't give," said Siobhan "Sam" Bennett, president and CEO of She Should Run and the Women's Campaign Fund. "Women already give the bulk of charitable donations. They need to be given a road map about why political giving matters."
She Should Run, a group dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office, wrote the report in conjunction with the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. The report also shows a correlation between low levels of political contributions from women to representation in Congress.
For the first time since 1978, female representation in the U.S. House dropped when the 112th Congress began last year. Today, there are 79 women in the House and 17 in the U.S. Senate.
Bennett compares the relationship between political giving and running for office to a ball of yarn in that one thing can't be separated from the other.
"Our job is to get more women running," Bennett said in an interview. "If a woman gives $5 to a candidate, suddenly she's engaged in a level that she wasn't before. The point is not how much she gives, but that she gives period."
Women in Congress have proven over and over that they are good fundraisers. The study found that in the 2010 election, female House incumbents raised about $100,000 more than their male counterparts and female challengers brought in more than $74,000 than their male peers.
Bennett, the Democratic nominee for a U.S. House seat in Pennsylvania in 2008, found that she had more success raising money from women by making a personal case on key issues, such as education or the environment.
Two examples of women in Congress who have been able to raise substantial amounts from other women: Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
About 46 percent of the $10.5 million Boxer raised from individual contributions came from women, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Schakowsky raised about $722,000 from individuals and about 64 percent came from women.
Both parties are aiming to reverse the 2010 election trend of fewer women in Congress and have recruited more women in key House and Senate races across the country.
This story first appeared in USA Today.