EMILY’s List was founded in 1985 by IBM heiress Ellen Malcolm and a small group of her politically-connected friends, including now U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and future Texas Gov. Ann Richards (D). The group operates as a federal PAC that bundles and gives contributions to pro-abortion, female Democratic candidates for office.
Since its inception, EMILY’s list has given or bundled over $45 million to Democratic candidates or PACs. Additionally, EMILY’s List spun off the Super PAC Women Vote!, which has spent $50 million independent expenditures in support/against candidates.
In total, EMILY’s claims to have helped elect 23 pro-choice Democratic women to the U.S. Senate and 116 to the U.S. House of Representatives.
EMILY’s List has faced criticisms for using divisive tactics and supporting female candidates in primary elections. The most notable example of this was in 2008 when EMILY’s List signed on early to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign and proceeded to criticize Barack Obama and feuded with other pro-abortion groups for endorsing him. As reporters for National Journal put it, “EMILY’s List had a lot riding on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 candidacy” and her “defeat [called] into question the very core of EMILY’s List’s strategy.”
Ellen Malcolm (the great-granddaughter of IBM co-founder A. Ward Ford) and a small group of liberal women including now U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, former Texas Governor Ann Richards, Carter White House official Anne Wexler, and Clinton Administration Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala among others, founded EMILY”s List in 1985 to provide pro-abortion female Democrats with access to early money. 
The group name, “EMILY’s List,” is an acronym. “EMILY [means] Early Money Is Like Yeast, in that they early money, like yeast, makes the dough [i.e. money] rise.” In 1986, Emily’s List endorsed two candidates for office.
Malcolm’s effort was “founded on the premise that women donors would be more motivated to open their wallets to help their own.” Through this effort, EMILY’s List helped to pioneer “small-donor political bundling” and “turned many women into dedicated Democratic Party donors.”
Under Malcolm’s direction, “EMILY’s List was self-consciously partisan and women-focused.” The group “would not endorse a Republican even if she was pro-choice… EMILY’s List used partisan language in its appeals for members and in its support of candidates, and because of its partisan orientation and connections, the leadership of EMILY’s List was able to push the Democratic Party to do more to recruit and support female candidates.” These differences separated EMILY’s List apart from the other women’s political organizations of the time. 
In 1991, Ellen Malcolm’s public commentaries related to Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual misconduct against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, “made EMILY’s LIST a household name” and between 1990 to 1992 “membership and donations to EMILY’s List skyrocketed.”
Over the next 8 years EMILY’s List expanded in scope. In 1994 it became a “full-service political organization that raises money for women candidates, helps them build strong campaigns, and mobilizes women voters.”
EMILY’s List’s overarching goal is “to elect pro-choice Democratic women,… and to use the power of women to make a positive difference in politics.”
EMILY’s List “pioneered the use of direct mail and donor bundling to raise early money for Democratic women candidates and has built a large network of progressive female donors.”
EMILY’s List’s operational priorities have been described as focusing on helping female candidates address problems with the “four cornerstones” of political campaigning, Media And Campaigns, Credibility, Money, & Mobilization.
EMILY’s List helps candidates not only by bundling campaign dollars but also by providing political expertise. It often deploys its own staff to bolster a candidate’s campaign. It also has created a “candidate- and staff-training curriculum, and it runs a program to help elect state and local women to office.”
For instance, in 2001 EMILY’s List took over the Democratic Party’s Campaign Corps program, which focuses on “training college students to work as support staff, ‘…in targeted progressive Democratic campaigns for the three months leading up to Election Day.’”
EMILY’s List also oversees a separate Super PAC “independent-expenditure program, called ‘Women Vote!’ that communicates directly with voters. According to a March 2008 fundraising letter, EMILY’s List aimed to raise $15 million for Women Vote!” during that cycle.
Women Vote! Program uses polling data and surveys conducted specifically for EMILY’s List, to target and mobilize Democratic women at the mass level. According to EMILY’s List researcher Karen O’Connor, Ellen Malcolm knew that turning out women “would support EMILY’s List candidates where they were running, and …when they go to the polls, they would likely support other Democrats on the ticket.”
According to the Center For Responsive Politics, Women Vote! has spent over $50 million on independent expenditures since 2008.
According to research compiled by assistant professor of politics at Niagara University Jamie Pamella Pimlott, From 1986 through 2008, EMILY’s list gave a $2.3 million to candidates and bundled over $36.2 million for candidates.
According to data compiled by the Center For Responsive Politics, EMILY’s List has given a total of $45.73 million to dollars to candidates and PACs.
Additionally, through the 2008 election cycle, before the creation of the Women Vote! Super PAC, EMILY’s List spent a total of $7.66 million on 93 independent expenditures in support or against candidates.
“From 1985 through the 2008 election, EMILY’s List raised and spent more than $240 million,” and after the 2006 election, it claimed to be “the nation’s largest political action committee.”
According to the Gender and Women’s Leadership Reference Handbook:
“Members of EMILY’s List agree to pay a $100 fee to the group and to support at least two female U.S. Senate, U.S. House, or gubernatorial candidates with a minimum donation of $100 each. Members send their checks to EMILY’s List. Upon receiving these individual contributions, EMILY’s List “bundles” the checks together and forwards them to the candidates with a letter that explains the organization’s role in collecting this money.”
According to reporters with the National Journal, EMILY’s List “closely guards the age and economic profiles of its donors,” but the reporter’s noted that a meeting of the group’s donors were “well-heeled, mostly female, 50-to-60-something set.”
Reports vary about the precise number of members and donors that EMILY’s List actually has. In 2010, EMILY’s list claimed to have “a list of more than 350,000 supporters, donors both proven and potential.” Then in 2012, it was reported that “organization officials [said] that it has 100,000 members” and then in 2013, the group touted that they had “3 million members…who believe in a woman’s right to choose,” of whom 100,000 had given money to candidates.
The group’s contribution disclosures included a number of famous or notable donors including “actress Marlo Thomas, who gave $20,000; Susie Tompkins Buell, the founder of Esprit clothing, who gave $100,000; and Fred Eychaner, president of Newsweb, who gave $250,000.”
Support For Hillary Clinton
Ellen Malcolm called EMILY’s List’s support for Hillary Clinton in 2008, an “no-brainer” and Malcolm served as a co-chair on Clinton’s presidential campaign. During the course of the primary campaign, “EMILY’s List bundled $855,518 for Clinton, making the group one of the five largest donors to the campaign” Further, “EMILY’s List spent at least $1.5 million in early primary states on phone banks, direct mail, and get-out-the vote efforts for Clinton in coordination with such unions as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.”
During the campaign, EMILY’s List questioned Barack Obama’s “commitment to reproductive health rights” and subsequently feuded with fellow abortion groups Planned Parenthood and NARAL for endorsing him over Hillary Clinton. According to Washington pollster Celinda Lake EMILY’s List was “heavily critiqued” for these decisions. For instance, a “senior Democratic consultant” questioned why EMILY’s List “would fan disunity within the party’s ranks–and within its own interest-group community” and Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that Malcolm risked diminishing EMILY’s List’s political influence, because “there are costs to not playing well in the sandbox with others in your party.”
Ultimately, National Journal reporters noted that EMILY’s List had a lot riding on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 candidacy because they “took a gamble in backing Clinton early” to the potential detriment of other candidates and that her “defeat [called] into question the very core of EMILY’s List’s strategy–that women will back female candidates in the interest of equality, and that gender and identity politics can trump issues, message, and personality.
2016 Support For Clinton
As early as 2013, EMILY’s List announced their plans to support Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Presidency. In 2015, EMILY’s List teamed with Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA to launch a $20 million a “war on women” themed campaign intended to push female voters away from supporting the eventual Republican candidate in the general election.
During the 2016 Democratic primary campaign it was reported that EMILY’s List, while independent of the campaign, “was very close to Clinton.” Its president, Stephanie Schriock, was an “active campaign surrogate for Clinton,” and Anne Caprara, a former EMILY’s List official, was the “executive director of Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Clinton Super PAC.”
EMILY’s List operatives pledged that 2016 would be their “most active election to date,” based largely on their “deep connections to Clinton.” EMILY’s List expected to spend over $14 million on independent expenditures geared toward electing Clinton.
Politico reported that EMILY’s List “ripped” Clinton’s primary rival, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I/D-Vermont), for “calling abortion a ‘social issue’” and for “calling women leaders ‘unqualified.’”
Meanwhile, during the general election, EMILY’s List shifted away from merely “boosting Clinton and female Democrats” and instead began to “focus on trying to define Republican candidates as bad for women across the country.” 
In this vein, EMILY’s list waged a wide campaign against Donald Trump and created a website targeting him for his comments about women, called Women Can Stop Trump.
2017 And Beyond
In the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, EMILY’s List co-sponsored the Women’s March on Washington alongside dozens of other liberal groups to “hold the Trump administration accountable.”
According to the Morning Consult, “EMILY’s is bullish on its electoral prospects” for the 2018 election cycle. They featured progressive U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren at their 2017 gala highlighting pro-abortion Democratic women across the country and expanded their state-level Republican opposition program seeking to impose their progressive pro-abortion agenda on 300% percent more of the country.
EMILY’s List has faced a number of other similar criticisms, most notably the group has drawn fire for “employing divisive tactics” and for “pitting abortion-rights Democratic women against Democratic congressmen who also favor abortion rights.
After the 2006 election cycle where EMILY’s List largely underperformed the DCCC, the group faced criticisms that their mission was too narrow and that their policy in support of abortions actually could hurt candidates.
Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur from Ohio said that EMILY’s List’s narrow mission “missed an opportunity to back female candidates who are more moderate on abortion rights” but who care about other issues. Further, Kaptur said she was afraid that the EMILY’s List pro-abortion brand didn’t represent all of the “working-class” women in her district.
Meanwhile, former Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda from Kansas “said she feared that an EMILY’s List endorsement could have hurt her prospects with voters who oppose abortion,” because they would think she is “for abortion on demand,” which she claimed she is not.
The group has also been criticized by researchers and reporters for lacking transparency or being less than “forthcoming” about decisions made, fundraising and spending on behalf of Hillary Clinton, and questionnaire info requested from candidates. As Jamie Pamella Pimlott put it, “They’re closed-lipped about how they succeed.”
According to Jamie Pamella Pimlott, “In recent years, EMILY’s List has also proven to be adept at the ‘inside game’ of lobbying. In the late 1990s, it began to engage in “traditional” interest group activity, pressuring legislators to oppose the passage of restrictive campaign finance law.”
Stephanie Schriock currently serves as President of EMILY’s List. Schriock previously worked for the campaign of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) campaign and as finance director for Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Ellen Malcolm still serves as Chairman of the Board for EMILY’s List. Prior to EMILY’s List, Ellen worked as an organizer at Common Cause, served as press secretary for the National Women’s Political Caucus, and in 1980 served as a press secretary in President Jimmy Carter’s administration. In 2003, Ellen helped create America Coming Together (ACT), an AFL-CIO backed political committee for the 2004 elections, and in 2008 she was a co-chair for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.
EMILY’s List’s current Board of Directors is comprised of the following individuals:
- Diana Bell (Vice Chair)
- Ranny Cooper (Secretary/Treasurer)
- Paul M. Bernon
- Mary Beth Cahill
- Aimee Boone Cunningham
- Shefali Razdan Duggal
- Ted Gavin
- Rebecca Haile
- Joanne Howes
- Lisa Jackson
- María Teresa Kumar
- Judith L. Lichtman
- Laura Ricketts
- Donald Sussman