(Adds Melinda Gates not available for comment)
NEW YORK, Jan 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new philanthropic fund to support more women running for elected office in the United States was launched on Tuesday, organizers said, amid intense public debate over politics ahead of the November presidential election.
The Ascend Fund will coordinate with 70 small non-profit organizations that work toward gender equity in elected office, said Gabrielle Fitzgerald of Panorama Global, a Seattle-based non-profit that will run the fund.
The nonpartisan fund, launched with seed money from an investment company founded by philanthropist Melinda Gates, will “pool philanthropic capital”, Fitzgerald said.
It will focus on the nation’s 8,200 state-level elected positions, which are mostly legislative, along with governors and other positions.
The effort can benefit from the attention being paid this year to U.S. politics, said Fitzgerald.
Republican President Donald Trump is seeking reelection in November and a dozen Democratic candidates are vying for their party’s nomination in hopes of unseating him.
All 435 seats in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and a third of the Republican-controlled Senate also are up for election.
“There’s a much greater civic awareness right now,” Fitzgerald told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “A lot more people are paying attention right now to politics than they have in quite a few years.”
Nationwide, about 30 percent of state legislatures are female, according to Ascend Fund research.
“We have a huge way to go to get to gender equity in elected office,” Fitzgerald said.
The Ascend Fund already awarded grants of $4 million to recipients including New American Leaders, a political group that trains immigrants to be candidates, and Vote Run Lead, a group that advocates for women running for office regardless of previous experience.
Barriers to women running for office include stereotypes that women are not electable, media that reinforces traditional gender roles, and social media attacks on candidates, Fitzgerald said.
“This is really about getting more women into the pipeline earlier,” she said. “We’re hoping that with this increase of resources, we will be able to make measurable progress on getting to gender equity in elected office this decade.”
Other efforts to encourage women to run for office include Emily’s List, an advocacy group that backs Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights.
The undisclosed amount of seed funding came from Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, an incubation and investment company.
Gates was not available for comment, a spokeswoman said.