Born on February 2, 1947, Ellen R. Malcolm is an heir to an IBM fortune and has long been an activist/fundraiser/consultant for the Democratic Party and its agendas. She earned a BA in psychology from Hollins College in 1969, and an MBA from George Washington University in 1984.
Malcolm launched her activist career as an organizer with Common Cause in the 1970s. She later became press secretary for the National Women’s Political Caucus, and in 1980 she was hired as press secretary for President Jimmy Carter’s special assistant for consumer affairs, Esther Peterson.
In 1985 Malcolm founded EMILY’s List, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping pro-choice Democratic female candidates win political elections. She went on to serve as president of that organization until 2010.
In January 2003 Malcolm helped create the voter-mobilization group America Coming Together (ACT), where she served was president during 2003-04.
In early 2003 Malcolm collaborated with former Bill Clinton aide Harold Ickes to form the Media Fund, a nonprofit organization that purchased “issue advocacy” ads attacking President George W. Bush during the run-up to the 2004 election.
On July 17, 2003, Malcolm was one of several influential political strategists, activists, and Democrat donors who attended a gathering that the billionaire financier George Soros held at his Long Island, New York beach house, to discuss strategies for defeating President Bush’s bid for re-election in 2004. Also in attendance were such luminaries as Morton Halperin, former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, labor leader and former Clinton advisor Steve Rosenthal, former Clinton speechwriters Jeremy Rosner and Robert Boorstin, and major Democrat donors such as Lewis and Dorothy Cullman, Robert Glaser, Peter Lewis, and Robert McKay. The consensus of these individuals was that voter turnout—particularly in 17 “swing” or “battleground” states—would be the key to unseating Bush. Ellen Malcolm and Steve Rosenthal—CEO and president, respectively, of a newly formed but poorly funded ACT—suggested that voters in those swing states should be recruited and mobilized as soon as possible. Agreeing, Soros told the pair that he personally would give ACT $10 million to help maximize the effectiveness of its efforts. The other aforementioned donors in attendance—the Cullmans, Glaser, Lewis, and McKay—also pledged to give the fledgling group large sums of money.
In July 2003 as well, Malcolm was instrumental in the creation of America Votes, a coalition of progressive groups (including EMILY’s List) committed to registering and mobilizing voters likely to support Democratic candidates.
Malcolm chaired the 2008 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who once told The New York Times that Malcolm was “probably the most influential fundraiser and adviser we’ve seen.” “I don’t know anybody who can match her track record,” added Clinton. In May 2013 Malcolm endorsed the Super PAC Ready for Hillary, which was created explicitly for the purpose of drafting Mrs. Clinton to run for the White House in the ensuing presidential election. Said Malcolm: “I’ve seen—we’ve all seen—how resilient and caring Hillary is. I’ve been ready for Hillary to be president for decades.” At a March 2015 event at which Mrs. Clinton was present, Malcolm said that now was the “time to shatter that glass ceiling and put a woman in the White House.” “Hillary, you heard us,” Malcolm added. “Just give us the word and we’ll be right at your side.”
In 2016 Malcolm and left-wing journalist Craig Unger co-authored the book When Women Win: EMILY’s List and the Rise of Women in American Politics.
Today Malcolm serves as chair of the EMILY’s List board of directors. She is also the board chair of the National Partnership for Women & Families, and has been a board member with the National Park Foundation since 2010.
In 2010 Malcolm was a recipient of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Margaret Sanger Award, which is “presented annually to recognize leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement.” She also has been named as one of the most influential women in America by Vanity Fair (1998), one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year (1992), one of the Ladies’ Home Journal’s 100 Most Important Women in America (1999), and one of Time magazine’s 50 Women Who Made American Political History (2017). In 2014, Malcolm was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Association of Political Consultants.
Further Reading: “Ellen Malcolm” (EmilysList.org, NNBD.com); “Leader of Emily’s List, a PAC Built to Elect Women, Faces Her Biggest Test in 2016” (NY Times, 3-3-2015); “The Shadow Party: Part I” (by David Horowitz and Richard Poe, 10-6-2004); “EMILY’s List Founder Joins Effort to Draft Hillary Clinton for 2016 Presidential Run” (The Hill, 5-13-2013).