A New Era for EMILY's List

When Ellen Malcolm, the founder of EMILY's List, announced Wednesday that she is stepping down as the group's president, she made clear that it was time for a new generation to take the reins of her Democratic fundraising powerhouse.

"I came of age in the 1960s and got involved in politics through the feminist movement," Malcolm, 62, told supporters in a note posted on the group's Web site. "My outlook and dedication to fighting for political parity for women was shaped by the fact that women were excluded, and by the unshakable belief that if we join together, women have the power to reshape our country."

With EMILY's List -- the name is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast (it makes the dough rise) -- Malcolm did just that, building a network of donors and identifying candidates for them to support. Since its founding in 1985, when a Democratic woman had yet to be elected to the Senate in her own right, the group has helped elect 80 pro-choice Democratic women to the U.S. House, 15 to the Senate, nine to governorships, and hundreds more to state and local offices.

Stephanie Schriock, the 36-yeard-old tapped to take over on Feb. 1, "was shaped by different experiences," Malcolm said. "She grew up believing that women have full access to our society, including in the world of politics," but later realized "the more subtle challenges that hold women back."

As Malcolm put it plainly, "Stephanie has lived the life of a Generation X woman and has the proven ability to reach out to them and bring them into politics and EMILY's List."

It's a shift the group needs to make. As I noted in a July 2008 piece for the Prospect, EMILY's List faces significant challenges, none more important than whether its Rolodex-era fundraising techniques are suited to the Internet age.

While the group sometimes ventures online, "most of its money is raised the old-fashioned way, through the mail and one-on-one solicitations, which remains well-suited to the donors the group taps," I wrote.

Ramona Oliver, then communications director at EMILY's List, had a quick retort: "It can't possibly be outmoded because we were the largest PAC in the country in the last cycle."

But that position has begun to slip. In the 2007-2008 election cycle, when EMILY's List raised more than $43 million from more than 100,000 members to recruit and support women candidates and mobilize female voters, its total receipts and expenditures lagged behind three other PACs: the Service Employees International Union, ActBlue, and MoveOn.org -- the last two offering clear proof of the new dominance of online funding models.

Since then, the group has added some Internet bells, whistles, and blogs. But the selection of Schriock shows that EMILY's List is serious about recapturing its fundraising magic and using the Internet to do so.

Schriock grew up in Montana and got her campaign start as a fundraiser, including a stint working for Mary Reider, an EMILY's List-backed candidate for Congress from Minnesota, in 1996. But she made her national mark in 2004 as national finance director for Howard Dean's upstart presidential campaign -- which used the Internet as an organizing and fundraising tool like never before, raising some $50 million in the process.

After that she managed Jon Tester's long-shot bid for the Senate in Montana in 2006. While working as his chief of staff on the Hill, Democratic leaders called on Schriock to manage Al Franken's struggling Senate campaign in Minnesota, winning high marks for her handling of the lengthy recount process. (As Malcolm boasted, "Our new EMILY's List president … led the effort that gave Democrats their much-needed 60th vote in the Senate!")

That kind of in-the-trenches work will be useful for Schriock as she weighs which candidates EMILY's List should back. And maybe it's just a coincidence, or maybe her influence is already being felt; this week the group announced its support for Minnesota state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who is trying to win a Democratic primary and the chance to take on Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.

But Malcolm, who will become chair of the group's board of directors, is really counting on Schriock's Web wisdom to revitalize the organization. As she told The Washington Post, "She views politics through the lens of the Internet, which is what we need going forward."

Schriock could start with that EMILY's List blog, where Malcolm posted her message. Surely there's a better name for it than Read My Lipstick.