When Lee Podolak ran for the all-male Orange City Council a few years ago, she recalls, "I had a lot of trouble raising money for my campaign because I was a woman."
Even today, Podolak, a former president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, believes that "campaign fund raising is more difficult for women than men. There are too many people who hold the traditional view that women aren't serious candidates and therefore, don't deserve financial support."
Difficulties in fund raising are the major barrier to the election of more women to office, according to Podolak and many other speakers and panelists scheduled to participate in Saturday's conference on "The Political Woman: Women on the Move."
The conference at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana will feature workshops and speeches by politicians, campaign experts and civic activists on how women can get elected to office. It is open to the public, and backers expect to draw more than 200 people.
Second Annual Gathering
The second such annual gathering, it is being sponsored by the Women's Coalition of Orange County, Rancho Santiago College's Women's Programs and Services Department and the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women.
The forum, participants say, is being held against a somber scenario for women achieving electoral victory. Elections are costing more and more for all candidates. Campaign records show that Doris Allen, the county's only woman in the state Assembly, spent more than $1 million before winning her northeast Orange County seat on her third attempt in 1982.
Of Orange County's 164 elected officials serving in posts ranging from council member to U.S. representative, only 35 are women, according to statistics compiled this month by the Orange County Republican Party.
Attorney Ruth Church Gupta of San Francisco recounted that when she unsuccessfully sought an Assembly seat several years ago, "I had a very hard time trying to raise campaign funds."
Criticizing the low level of campaign contributions by women to female candidates, Gupta, a former president of the California Federation of Business and Professional Women, said, "Women are just not used to writing the $100 checks you need to run an effective campaign."
To increase funds available to women candidates, female political action committees (PACs) have been formed. The statewide Business and Professional Women PAC, for example, expects to contribute $30,000 to California women candidates this year, Gupta said.
California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, who holds the highest constitutional elective state office filled by a woman, agreed in a telephone interview from Sacramento that "the cost of running for office is the greatest barrier to the election of more women."
She recalled that while it cost only a "couple hundred thousand" dollars when she was first elected to her post 12 years ago, she will spend $1.8-million in her reelection bid this year.
"Male donors don't see women as politicians. They see women as wives who should be at home and not in politics. They often do this unconsciously, but the bottom line is that they do not deal with female candidates in the same way that they do male candidates."
Discussing how women can overcome this handicap, Eu said, "I don't have a sure-fire answer. . . . Women will have to learn to write out campaign contribution checks for $1,000 or $2,000 because that's what men do."
Echoing Eu's opinions, Mary Yunt, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Labor Council of Orange County, said, "There's an old boy's network, and men feel more comfortable donating to men candidates."
Yunt said the AFL-CIO's PAC has not decided how much it will spend on races in Orange County this year. However, she noted that the AFL-CIO spent $30,000 in the county during 1984 elections.
"Women candidates have to . . . develop the skills and contacts to raise the money they need to run credible campaigns," said Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles).
Molina, who in 1982 became the first Latina elected to the state Legislature, said in a telephone interview from Sacramento that it costs from $300,000 to $500,000 to win a seat in the Assembly and twice that to secure a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Heads Consulting Firm
Offering a sharply contrasting view on women's electoral prospects was Lois Lundberg, former chair of the Republican Party of Orange County, who now runs her own political consulting firm, Nason, Lundberg and Kiley in Orange. She said that while women in the rest of the country still face difficulties getting elected to office because of sex, this is not the case in Orange County.
"In Orange County, the business community and the political structure have been so far ahead of the rest of the nation that the political woman has not suffered," Lundberg said. "Orange County has no problem accepting a good woman candidate--one who is confident and speaks intelligently on the issues.