March is Women’s History Month and one alliance of women’s organizations is working hard on Capitol Hill to finally pass a groundbreaking piece of legislation — the Equal Rights Amendment. At the beginning of the month, the ERA Coalition, a group that represents 76 organizations working to pass the constitutional amendment which passed Congress in 1972, hired three members of the Allegiance Strategies lobbying firm to assist in the effort.
According to Jessica Neuwirth, founder and co-president of the ERA Coalition, the group has been working towards reviving passage of the ERA since 2014 and sees now as a good time.
“In recent years momentum has grown steadily and our efforts are more visible and hopefully will soon be successful,” she said.
Neuwirth explained that based on polling the organization has done, it found there is huge public support for the amendment’s passage — 94 percent of all Americans approve of its implementation.
“This is a fundamental principle of sex equality — it’s a no-brainer for most people,” she said.
She also said that the legislation has “always been a bipartisan issue” and noted its supporters include Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and former Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.).
Perhaps as proof that the ERA enjoys bipartisan support, the ERA Coalition has hired Republican-aligned firm Allegiance Strategies to lobby on its behalf. The online bio for Tyler Deaton, the president of Allegiance Strategies and one of the lobbyists named in the disclosure, notes that he has worked on a number of bipartisan issues, while overseeing “conservative and Republican engagement.” One of the Allegiance lobbyists working on their behalf is Torrey Shearer, whose bio says he was lauded as “one of the Most Influential Republicans Under 35” by the D.C. GOP.
Enlisting a firm with Republican connections is likely a strategic move for the ERA Coalition as it allows them to build bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Senate for the Cardin-Murkowski Resolution.
“Allegiance Strategies has built bipartisan coalitions for other social justice issues, and they are very enthusiastic and supportive of the ERA,” Neuwirth said.
The Cardin-Murkowski Resolution, introduced in January 2019, would scrap the ratification deadline for the ERA and “revive the consideration of the ERA by the states.” It has also been cosponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). None of the top 10 Senate recipients of women’s issues interest group contributions have yet to sign on. None of the senators in the 2020 Democratic primary have yet to sign on, including vocal women’s rights supporters like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
A related House Resolution was introduced in January by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), it has 167 cosponsors, including two Republicans. The top successful House recipient of campaign contributions from the women’s issues groups in the 2018 cycle, Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), is one of the many co-sponsors of the House resolution. Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is currently the only 2020 candidate who has signed on to either chamber’s proposal.
Both resolutions were sent to each chamber’s respective Judiciary Committee.
A large number of the organizations the ERA Coalition represents are politically active. Groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights ($561,598 on lobbying in 2018) and the National Association of Social Workers ($160,000 on lobbying in 2018) are two of the bigger players in the coalition. Some of the other coalition members also have smaller lobbying presences — the National Council of Jewish Women ($40,000), Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization ($90,000), the Alliance for Justice ($65,533) and Federally Employed Women ($40,000).
Versions of the Equal Rights Amendment, which constitutionally guarantees equal rights regardless of sex, were first introduced in Congress in 1921. The amendment gained momentum over the intervening decades and for a time held prominent bipartisan support. In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was the first president to call on Congress to pass the ERA and it was included in the Republican Party’s platform until 1980.
After the growth of second-wave feminism in the 1960s, the ERA passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and was sent to the states for ratification. Due to intense opposition organized primarily by Phyllis Schlafly and her STOP ERA group, the measure stalled and only 31 states approved of the amendment by the ratification deadline in 1979. Since then, the number of states that have ratified the ERA has risen to 37, one state short of the 38 needed for its incorporation into the Constitution.
It makes sense for the lobbying effort on reopening the constitutional process on ERA to be occurring now, since women made a major impact in the 2018 midterms and look likely to continue to be an important political and fundraising force.