PAC/WOMAN: new entrant in the game of politics
Chicago — ''We'll remember in November'' is the retaliatory theme being echoed this week as the National Organization for Women (NOW) unleashes PAC/WOMAN.
Fresh off the June defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, NOW aims to even the odds in state legislatures and in Congress when it next does battle on the ERA issue. That means thinning out the ranks of ERA foes - and ERA supporters who may not have been vocal enough on the amendment or other women's issues to suit the organization.
PAC/WOMAN, a network of local and national political action committees (PACs) , is building NOW's political war chest for the November elections.
NOW, which claims to have raised $1 million a month since January in its unsuccessful last ditch efforts to ratify the amendment, aims to secure $3 million for use against candidates PAC hopes to help defeat in the November elections. NOW raised $60,000 just in the Chicago area over the weekend as a series of national PAC/WOMAN walkathons began.
The biggest NOW target in the November elections is the state of Illinois, one of the last holdouts on ERA ratification and not coincidentally the home state of anti-ERA campaigner Phyllis Schlafly.
NOW has already brought pressure to bear on the gubernatorial race here between incumbent Republican James Thompson and Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson III. While not opposing the ERA, Governor Thompson was not vocal enough in his support for the amendment to suit NOW officials. They claim he didn't back a rules change that would have reduced the size of the majority needed for the amendment to clear the legislature. He further incensed feminists with his backing of one of the legislature's chief ERA opponents, George Ryan, as a running mate.
Throwing their support behind Mr. Stevenson, NOW proceeded to whip their candidate into shape by demanding he withdraw from a Chicago club that does not accept women members. Stevenson did so.
The organization has set up a national committee, called NOW/PAC, and more than 45 NOW Equality PACs in 27 states, according to NOW representative Judy Murphy. NOW believes there is enough sentiment on the single issue of women's rights to make a difference in elections, she says, citing the ''gender gap,'' a polling phenomenon showing a clear difference in voting patterns between the sexes. For example, there is a 25 to 36 percent difference between men and women polled on how they assess President Reagan's performance - women showing stronger disapproval, says Ms. Murphy.
NOW also plans to build whole campaigns in the future on women's issues by establishing the Institute for Feminist Policy, which will recruit and train candidates for political office. Ms. Murphy says that 20 percent of all PAC funds raised will go toward developing the institute.
PAC power brokering has been a controversial issue and the concept as employed, for example, by the highly publicized National Conservative Political Action Committee has been criticized by both major political parties. If NOW were to reach its $3 million goal, it's reported that it would be the largest liberal PAC.
While NOW officials are not sure how their PAC funds would be divided and spent, they explain that support would be offered largely in the way of direct mailing and telephone campaigning (besides direct contributions, which are limited to $5,000 per contributor).