Reducing the influence of special-interest money in Washington could give elected officials a better shot at passing economic policies that would benefit women, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told a Baltimore audience Saturday.

Pelosi, a Baltimore native and California Democrat, and Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland said corporate influence has hampered efforts to raise the minimum wage, require paid sick days and pass other legislation they and fellow Democrats say would help women succeed in the economy. The role of money in politics also discourages some women from running for office, they said.


"That's why we have to reduce the role of money and increase the level of civility," Pelosi said during a forum focusing on economic policies at the Maryland Women's Heritage Center. "If we do that, many more women will put themselves forward and many more women will win."

Pelosi and Sarbanes attended the forum as part of their party's efforts to reach out to women voters ahead of the mid-term elections. They want to require paid sick leave, raise the minimum wage and increase access to child-care programs.

"The most important thing we can do for the U.S. economy is to unleash the power of women in our economy and in our politics," Pelosi said.

Sarbanes said it's "embarrassing" how the nation compares to countries around the world on issues such as paid sick days and family-leave time.

"The United States really lags behind when it comes to these solutions," he said.

Sarbanes and Pelosi also criticized the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby and contraceptive coverage.

"It's a galvanizing force for women," Pelosi said.

The group heard from two local women, Tylis Cooper and June Jimenez, who described the challenges of juggling work and family. Cooper talked about her struggle to find quality child care. At one point when her oldest daughter was a small child, she discovered that the unlicensed day care she attended was keeping her in a car seat the entire time she was there, she said. Cooper, now an academic adviser and adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore, said her lack of access to child care was one reason she stayed in an abusive relationship at the time.

Jimenez described being laid off while she was pregnant, then facing what she decribed as blatant pregnancy discrimination when looking for another job. "I was told on more than one occasion, to my face, that they didn't want to invest in me ... because I would just leave," the Silver Spring resident said.

In a statement, Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris said the economic policies of President Obama, Pelosi and other Democrats have not helped women.

"Under the president's policies, women are paying much more for their college education, and those who graduate college can't even find a job," Harris said. "Women are paying more for healthcare, more for gas, and hundreds of thousands of women have lost their jobs."

The newly formed Baltimore Younger Women's Task Force hosted the event at Maryland Women's Heritage Center. The group is an affilate of the The American Association of University Women, a non-profit organization founded in 1881.

The Baltimore task force launched about two months ago and is focusing on issues including gender-based violence, reproductive rights, education and the economy, said the group's director, Brittany Oliver.