The paper analyses the connection between political finance rules, patterns of private funding and women’s representation in Italy. The changes that took place in the Italian political finance regulatory framework in the last years – the progressive withdrawal of direct public funding since 2008, in particular – considerably altered the funding practices of political actors. From being strongly depended on public resources, parties and candidates now have to rely almost entirely on private funding. Additionally, different policy measures such as gender-targeted public funding and gender quotas were introduced in order to address the underrepresentation of women in politics. Overall, the opportunity structure for women to enter into politics changed to a significant extent.
By combining the analysis of different sources, including an original dataset on Italian candidates’ private donations and interview materials, we will observe (i) whether the financial incentives introduced in the political finance laws to contrast the “gender gap” had some effect on women’s representation; (ii) the donors’ and the candidates’ profiles, exploring which interests tend to support different women candidates; (iii) which specific funding networks women “top fundraisers” can rely on. We will show that if financial incentives seem to have worked for improving women’s representation in the parliament, what really mattered for women’s political success are family resources and the availability of previous networks with specific interests.