July/August 2009 | By Rolando Rodriguez, catalina
On June 7, 2008, Ingrid Duran and Catherine Pino, like many women across America, were glued to a television set as then-U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave a historic speech supporting her opponent, Barack Obama, in a thrilling and unforgettable primary election. And like most women, they weren’t focused on a "failed candidacy." Rather, the two watched a woman who had profoundly altered and enhanced the role of women in American political life. A new PAC, by Latinas for Latinas, makes political dreams come true.
Duran and Pino, two of the most influential advocates for Hispanic and LGBT issues in Washington, D.C., decided that the journey for women vying for the highest levels of office shouldn’t stop with Clinton’s speech. And it didn’t. Clinton’s remarks would spark a lobbying effort of a different sort for the co-founders of D&P Creative Strategies. And it would reach deep into the Hollywood Hills, not just Capitol Hill.
Duran and Pino would form a political action committee (PAC), which, in plain terms, is a way for individuals, interest groups, unions, or corporations to contribute dollars to candidates running for public office. In other words, it can mean big money for someone running for a school board, mayoral, congressional or presidential seat. PACs are old as time, but one never existed to support Latina candidates. "They were never considered viable by mainstream organizations," says Duran.
But defying naysayers has never been a problem for activists, and that wouldn’t change with Duran and Pino. They created the PODER PAC, and for the first time, Latinas running for office would have a fundraising vehicle exclusively dedicated to them.
"We watched as people rose through the ranks of elected office," says Duran. "The numbers of Latino elected officials increased but the number of Latinas in Congress remained small, and the challenges for those who did make a run for Congress was daunting."
According to Duran, less than 1.5 percent of the total number of Members of Congress is Latina. But to pull a PAC together to accelerate that number would be no easy task. It would take a union of Duran, Pino, current political heavyweights, and Hollywood movers and shakers to launch a sustainable PAC.
The women of PODER PAC, including founders Duran and Pino (seen here in the middle of the photo).
"We called a meeting of the Latina Democratic Members of Congress at a restaurant on Capitol Hill and told them our plan and asked each of them to max out their contribution to the PAC at $5,000," says Pino. "We also reached out to some of our Latina celebrity friends to lend their names and support this effort. We knew we needed to come out of the gate in a big way."
The PAC was launched with 400 of the nation’s most influential political leaders at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008, a fitting stage considering the obvious. "It was exhilarating," Duran exclaims.
But this isn’t the first time either Duran or Pino have been trailblazers. Duran, the former president of Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and Washington, D.C. director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, was the first gay Latina to serve on the Human Rights Campaign board of directors. The HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
Pino, who served as the Deputy Director for Urban School Reform for the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is a current board member for CHCI, was the first Latina to co-chair and become a board member of the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City. She also sits on the Victory Fund board, which provides financial and campaign support to gay and lesbian political candidates.
If you’re thinking power couple, you’re right on. Duran and Pino are partners in real life, making their countless board appointments and prestigious career tracks even harder to ignore when they set their collective minds to something, like transforming the face of Capitol Hill through PODER PAC, or lobbying on Capitol Hill for major corporations like Wal-Mart through D&P Creative Strategies. "One of the reasons we decided to start our business was to empower communities that we care about most, like Latinos, the LGBT community and women," says Duran.
"Our work has enabled us to help steer millions of dollars to organizations and to support candidates that we consider viable, so creating PODER PAC was a natural extension of the work we are doing through D&P," added Pino.
PODER PAC is a focused fundraising entity with clear lines on whom it will support and who it won’t. For instance, if you’re Republican who advocates for pro-life legislation, hold your horses, or rather your elephants.
"We were very clear when we created the PAC that it will support Democratic, pro-choice Latinas with a demonstrated commitment to the Latino community and a viable campaign organization," says Duran. "In the end, we decided that it is really too difficult to be a bi-partisan PAC, so we decided not to fool ourselves and think we could be all things to all people."