College Professors, Administrators Heavily Invested in Midterm Political Elections

September 23, 2010 07:08

Democrats are the primary beneficiaries of educators’ federal political donations. Employees at nine educational institutions or systems have collectively donated $100,000 or more to Democrats. Employees of the University of California public university system topped the list of Democratic contributors, donating $414,351 to Democrats so far in the 2010 election cycle.

From Center for Responsive Politics

Geriatric medicine. Woodworking. Business. Psychology.

Educators may have varied academic interests, but some of the most politically active of them share one thing in common: the habit of donating huge sums of money to federal candidates, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of federal campaign records indicates.

While the recession continues to slash institutional education budgets for everything from collegiate athletics to research and financial aid, political donations from employees within the education sector continue to flow during the run-up to 2010 midterm elections.

Contributions from the education sector this election cycle have come from across the country, and from employees of non-profit and for-profit educational institutions both. And for some students, the partisan leanings of their professors are sources of curiosity — something, they say, that could even affect the way they learn.

Democrats are the primary beneficiaries of educators’ federal political donations. Employees at nine educational institutions or systems have collectively donated $100,000 or more to Democrats. Employees of the University of California public university system topped the list of Democratic contributors, donating $414,351 to Democrats so far in the 2010 election cycle.

Here is a chart of the top 10 universities and educational institutions whose employees have donated the most money to federal candidates, parties and committees this election cycle:

Organization Total PAC Individuals Dems Repubs %Dem %Repub
University of California $483,981 $0 $483,981 $414,351 $69,630 86% 14%
Harvard University $424,478 $0 $424,478 $327,028 $97,450 77% 23%
Stanford University $375,553 $0 $375,553 $280,703 $93,850 75% 25%
Apollo Group $265,625 $78,600 $177,025 $200,950 $64,175 76% 24%
Career College Association $226,111 $206,311 $19,800 $148,611 $77,500 66% 34%
University of Texas $139,867 $0 $139,867 $116,487 $23,380 83% 17%
Columbia University $126,690 $0 $126,690 $91,690 $35,000 72% 28%
Full Sail $126,070 $0 $126,070 $93,400 $29,770 74% 24%
Keiser University $118,242 $0 $118,242 $59,900 $29,500 51% 25%
Princeton Review $115,000 $0 $115,000 $115,000 $0 100% 0%

Schools and institutions that trend Republican generally give less than their Democratic-leaning counterparts. For-profit education marketing firm Royall & Co. ranks as the top donor to the Republican Party, contributing $80,360 this election cycle at the federal level — less than one-fifth of total contributions to Democratic candidates from employees of the University of California system.

Here is a chart of the top 10 universities and educational institutions whose employees have donated at least 50 percent of their collective federal political contributions this cycle to Republican candidates, parties and committees this election cycle:

Organization Total PAC Individuals Dems Repubs %Dem %Repub
Royall & Co. $80,367 $0 $80,367 $0 $80,367 0% 100%
Calvin College $56,200 $0 $56,200 $500 $55,700 1% 99%
ECPI College of Technology $51,280 $0 $51,280 $21,380 $29,900 42% 58%
University of Alabama $46,310 $0 $46,310 $10,008 $36,302 22% 78%
College of Lake County Illinois $44,000 $0 $44,000 $1,900 $42,100 4% 96%
Knowledge Universe Ltd. $38,300 $0 $38,300 $16,000 $22,300 42% 58%
University of Kentucky $31,600 $0 $31,600 $6,200 $25,400 20% 80%
University of Georgia $30,388 $0 $30,388 $11,947 $18,441 39% 61%
University of South Alabama $30,242 $7,950 $22,292 $700 $29,542 2% 98%
University of Delaware $26,669 $0 $26,669 $13,269 $13,400 50% 50%

Elite universities tend to employ the education sector’s most active political donors.

Consider: Fifteen of out of 20 universities listed on the U.S. News & World Report‘s annual rankings of the top national universities also rank among the nation’s top 50 political donor institutions, based on contributions made by employees. (Nonprofit institutions may not themselves make political donations, although employees may do so individually.)

Three schools — Harvard University, Stanford University and Columbia University — rank in the top 10 of both lists. Employees at all three universities gave at least 75 percent of their collective political contributions to Democrats.

Geography also helps predict whether a school’s employees are more apt to donate to Republicans or Democrats.

For example, several of the top individual Republican donors working in higher education are employed by Southern universities such Alabama, South Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia. Top Democratic contributors tend to appear everywhere but the South, from Ivy League schools on the East Coast to universities in California, Texas and Minnesota.


Two individuals, Stanford University Professor Emeritus Carol Winograd and former New School professor Phillip Munger, have donated more than $100,000 to Democrats this election cycle, the Center’s research indicates.

On the Republican side, Harvard business professor Raymond Gilmartin ranks as the top individual Republican donor, contributing $63,000 to Republicans this election cycle. Gilmartin is a Crimson rarity, as Harvard faculty members overall have this cycle given $327,000 — or 77 percent of total political contributions — to Democrats.

Among school employees, professors and school administrators — in many cases presidents or chief executives — compose a majority of a school’s top individual donors. To a much lesser degree, individual donors associated with colleges and universities may no longer actively teach, but continue to list their schools as their employers in FEC filings.

In an attempt to discover why some educators are this cycle donating five- and six-figure sums to federal political interests, the Center contacted the top 10 individual donors, who primarily donated to Democrats, as well as the top five individual donors to the Republican Party. Eight of them did not return calls and e-mails. The others declined to comment or declined comment through spokespeople.

Employees at universities constitute almost all of the top 50 political donors from the education sector. But a woodworking instructor from Vermont’s K-12 Lake Champlain Waldorf School, Aaron Heyerdahl, is the eighth highest individual donor from the education sector, giving more than $60,000 to Democrats this election cycle.

Here is a chart of the top ten individual givers who have donated the most money to federal candidates, parties and committees this election cycle:

Contributor Organization Total Dems Repubs
Winograd, Carol Stanford University $136,300 $136,300 $0
Munger, Phillip The New School $105,050 $105,050 $0
Haddock, Jr, Edward Full Sail University $90,670 $87,000 $2,670
Sperling, John Apollo Group $89,300 $79,300 $5,000
Perik, Michael Princeton Review $74,800 $74,800 $0
Gilmartin, Raymon Harvard University $63,000 $0 $63,000
Heyerdahl, Aaron Lake Champlain Waldorf School $62,800 $60,800 $0
Bailey, Jean Howard University $62,300 $62,300 $0
Dreyfus, Mark ECPI College of Technology $60,680 $20,780 $29,900
Keiser, Evelyn Keiser University $60,150 $36,200 $14,350

Prominent congressional candidates, or those in tight midterm elections, make up the majority of top recipients of education sector money, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida who’s running for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat as an independent. In each case, the candidates have raised more than $160,000 from educators.

Here is a chart of the top five candidates to benefit from educators’ money this election cycle:

Candidate OfficeSought Party Total
Boxer, Barbara Senate D $175,019
Schumer, Charles Senate D $170,175
Crist, Charlie Senate I $164,569
Reid, Harry Senate D $143,700
Coakley, Martha Senate D $138,600

Top Republican recipients include Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and John Kline (R-Minn.), with McKeon being the only Republican recipient to collect more than $100,000 from educators. The presidential election fund for Mitt Romney also amassed $40,225 during the 2010 election cycle in contributions from educators.

Here is a chart of the top five Republican candidates to benefit from educators’ money this election cycle:

Candidate OfficeSought Party Total
McKeon, Howard House R $127,750
Brown, Scott Senate R $78,481
Kline, John House R $77,900
McCain, John Senate R $54,930
Cantor, Eric House R $47,550


Ten for-profit institutions also ranked among the top 50 political donors from the education sector, including the Apollo Group, the Career College Association and the Princeton Review. For-profit organizations are legally allowed to form political action committees, whereas non-profit groups cannot.

“For-profit universities have a different mission,” said Kristen Amundson, director of communications for Education Sector, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education think tank based in Washington. “They have a responsibility to shareholders.”

Consequently, Amundson said that for-profit colleges have a more focused political strategy.

“It’s quite clear through their trade associations and individual donors that [for-profit colleges] are actively engaged in lobbying,” Amundson said.

This trend has previously been detailed by OpenSecrets Blog.

However, Manny Rivera, executive director of public affairs for the for-profit Apollo Group, disputed the notion that for-profit colleges have an advantage in politics.

“Our political action committee is only one form of our political activity,” Rivera said. “Apollo Group’s overall political work involves advocating for and educating our faculty, students and employees on policies that protect academic flexibility, quality and student choice.”

UOP_Logo.jpgIn addition, Rivera noted that the Apollo Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix, has a policy that employees are not required to contribute to Apollo lobbying or political activity.

Evelyn Keiser and her son Arthur Keiser, co-founders of the for-profit Keiser University chain of career colleges in Florida, both rank as top individual political donors from the education sector, with the pair together donating more than $100,000 during the 2010 election cycle.

Evelyn Keiser has donated 60 percent of a total $60,150 to Democrats. Arthur Keiser has contributed a total of $45,350 this election cycle, with only 43 percent going to Democrats.

Kimberly Dale, regional director of media and public relations for Keiser University, said that the Keisers make political contributions to help students.

“[Evelyn and Arthur Keiser] support candidates that they believe will support their students’ educational interests,” Dale said. “They believe it is their responsibility to protect their students’ rights, choices and access to higher education.”

Steve Burd, editor of the non-profit, non-partisan New America Foundation’s “Higher Ed” education policy blog, said that there is a difference in the organization of political activity among for-profit and non-profit organizations.

“For-profit colleges have more of a set goal… they are organized from the top down,” Burd said. “With non-profits, [donations] are coming from individuals and more based on their political values.”

John Longbrake, senior communications director for Harvard University, explained that while non-profit organizations as a whole are barred from engaging in partisan politics, employees can engage in the political process however they please.

“Individuals who happen to work for Harvard are free to contribute or engage politically as any other citizen free from institutional influence,” Longbrake said.

And professors frequently do engage in federal politics, as educators spanning the academic spectrum have exercised their campaign contribution rights during the 2010 election cycle.

They run the gamut from Howard University’s Ura Jean Bailey, a specialist in human development and drug addiction research, who has donated $62,300 to Democrats this election cycle, to Gaylen Byker, president of Michigan’s Calvin College, with degrees in philosophy, Russian language and law, who has donated $45,300 to Republicans in the same period. Hundreds of other academics have made federal-level political contributions, too, mainly at more modest donation levels.

Burd noted that that faculty from non-profit universities may sometimes be motivated to donate to politicians in hopes of garnering funding for their university.

“For the non-profits, earmarks could be a motivating factor,” Burd said.

Amundson, of Education Sector, also explained that non-profit universities depend on the government for funding in areas such as research and financial aid, but said that they have separate channels to lobby politicians, such as alumni networks and executive boards.

Amundson, herself a former elected representative to the Virginia General Assembly, explained that institutional political donations are often seen as an avenue to affect legislation.

“They are looking to get access [to politicians],” Amundson said. “There is a belief that dollars buy votes, but in my experience that is not true.”

Still, Amundson cautioned that professors at non-profit universities have greater leeway with individual contributions.

“What Professor X does with his or her own money, it seems to me, is up to Professor X,” Amundson said.


While employees from non-profit and for-profit schools have different means of contributing to politicians, questions remain about the possible consequences of professors engaging in partisan politics, especially when students are footing part at least part of the bill with tuition dollars.

“[A professor’s] political views invariably reflect their values, beliefs and most deeply held convictions,” said Jason Berkenfeld, president of the Harvard University College Democrats. “As a result, a professor with a radically different political affiliation would probably not share my views of the way the world works.”

Berkenfeld,Thumbnail image for harvard.gif a 20-year-old senior originally from New York, added that his personal educational gain from a class can be affected by a professor’s political leanings.

“A sociology course on urban inequality taught by a Republican would probably have a very different take-away message than the same course taught by a Democrat,” Berkenfeld said. “ Personally, I would probably love the latter and hate the former.”

Still, Berkenfeld, who estimated that a majority of Harvard students identify with the Democratic Party, said that political diversity among both students and professors can be productive.

“At the very least, you’ll probably improve your debate skills,” Berkenfeld said.

Amundson, however, said that college professors have always engaged in partisan politics and said that any potential influence depends more on the student.

“By the time students get to college, they have their own political ideas and hopefully can take what a professor says at face value,” Amundson said.

Brian Rose, chairman of the University of Kentucky College Republicans, agreed, saying he often finds it hard to even gauge a professor’s political leanings.

“You do get professors, especially in the political science department, that exhibit cynicism toward some things more than others,” said Rose, a 19-year-old sophomore from Southern Ohio, “but in no way does it change the educational value or learning experience in that class.”
Still, Rose said he was surprised to learn that his university was No. 8 on a list of institutions whose employees are giving more than 50 percent of political donations to Republicans this election cycle. Rose explained that he often feels like an outlier in what he perceives as a “liberal” university setting.

“The general consensus is that [the University of Kentucky] is a pretty liberal place,” Rose said. “People constantly remark on my position as chairman and say, ‘I’d hate to have your job over there at UK.’”

However, Jonathan Chapin, founder of the University of Alabama College Libertarians, was not surprised to find out that his school ranks fourth on the list of top donors to the GOP.

“The state of Alabama is a very red state,” Chapin explained. “My political professors lecture in a non-partisan way, but you can tell that they are conservative by the context of their lectures, the way they talk about the economy, and in private conversations, how they feel the government should operate.”

Chapin, who estimated that 70 percent of University of Alabama students support the Republican Party, said that while the university community may be more “liberal” than the surrounding rural area, most students favor conservative ideals such as limited government and lower taxes.
Jon Adams, president of the University of Alabama chapter of College Republicans, was also not surprised that professors at his school tend to donate to the GOP since Alabama generally votes Republican in federal elections. Adams, however, likes to learn about a professor’s political history before he even steps into the classroom.

“I usually search the FEC database to see if any of my professors have made political contributions,” Adams said.

Adams also agreed that any potential affect on the classroom experience from a partisan professor depends more on the student.

“I don’t think [a professor’s personal politics] change the educational value as long as students are aware of both sides of an issue,” Adams explained. “Many professors that choose to reveal their political affiliation provide both sides of the argument and leave it up to the student to form their own opinion.”


Nevertheless, if past is prologue, educators will continue to play a major role in federal elections.

During the 2008 presidential election, for example, two of Barack Obama’s top three contributors were employees of the University of California public university system and employees of Harvard University.

Overall, the education sector ranked third on the list of industries contributing to Obama’s campaign — a possible benefit for a president planning to institute new education reforms and who has already expanded federal Pell grants to students and eliminated government subsidies to private student loan providers, as OpenSecrets Blog previously reported.

This support from educators may also be a potential boon to his campaign coffer if and when he runs for re-election in 2012. 

Center for Responsive Politics Senior Researcher Douglas Weber contributed to this report.

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