Campaign Contributions Pretty Much Exactly What You’d Expect

30 03 2010

This is kind of a cop-out post since I’ve been real busy with school and upcoming Libertarian stuff.  It’s going to appear in this week’s issue of The Michigan Review.  I looked at campaign finance records available at the Federal Elections Commission website, compiled a list of all donations since January 1, 2008, and analyzed where the money was heading.

Any guess which way my professors lean?  Read on to find out:

The University of Michigan prides itself on its dedication to diversity, a concept embodied in the courses offered to students, the rich range of University-sponsored extracurricular activities and cultural events, and even in the student body itself.  But there remains one place where diversity is almost entirely absent: the campaign contributions of the University’s professors.

Using Federal Election Commission (FEC) data, The Michigan Review has found that, since January 1, 2008, University of Michigan professors have contributed $237,205.00 in donations of $200 or larger to candidates for federal elections and to political causes.  Of that, only $4,001.00, or 1.7% of the total, was given to Republican candidates or conservative causes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, President Obama was the biggest fundraiser, netting a massive $146,536.00 for his campaign.  Congressman Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, was another financial winner.  He received $9,950.00 towards his successful run.

EMILY’s List, a political action committee (PAC) “dedicated to building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to office,” was one of the more popular causes, raising $12,000.00.  Additionally, a wide range of Democratic Congressional and Senatorial candidates from across the country were represented in the donation roll, from Alan Khazei and Martha Coakley (both Democrats running against Republican Scott Brown in this year’s Massachusetts special Senatorial election), to New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen.

When compared to faculty members with a liberal-leaning donation history, conservative-leaning professors tended to give to a more narrow range of candidates and causes.  Presidential candidate and Arizona Senator John McCain received the bulk of those contributions, with the Republican National Committee, a few Congressional candidates (typically for races in Michigan), and the “Our Country Deserves Better” PAC accounting for the rest.

Because only donations of $200 or greater appear in the FEC records, they form an imperfect representation of actual contribution habits.  Kim Cameron, Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business, donated to the previously mentioned “Our Country Deserves Better” PAC, but he says he also gave to “some local, some state, and some national” candidates during the last election cycle, including “a Democratic candidate in a local election.”  None of those smaller donations appear in the public record, forming a potentially significant gap in data that cannot be easily accounted for.

When asked for his thoughts about working in an institution that has proved, through its financial support of causes and candidates, to be overwhelmingly liberal, Cameron explained that it was “not disconcerting at all” to be in a political minority on campus, but added that “it seems a bit frightening that, essentially, only one political point of view is represented in the best public university in the world.”

On the other hand, law professor Douglas Kahn, who donated to McCain in 2008, was not surprised by the disparity in contributions.  “My impression is, as far as political perspective is concerned, [campaign contributions] are representative of the general attitude” found among professors on campus, Kahn said.  But he was careful to note his limited exposure to faculty members outside of the law school, and was therefore hesitant to make any broad generalizations.

Cameron and Kahn felt that political contributions, and politics in general, played a relatively small role in the workplace.  Cameron explained that he and his colleagues “are much more likely to discuss our research” than engage in political debate.  Kahn mirrored that sentiment, adding that though he has contributed money and time to controversial causes like the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (which struck down affirmative action programs employed by the University of Michigan and other state institutions), “I don’t tend to argue with people” about political beliefs.

As politicians gear up for midterm elections this November, it will be interesting to monitor the extent to which faculty members involve themselves in various Congressional and Senatorial races via their monetary contributions.  Though FEC records indicate that no University professors have donated more than $200 to conservative-leaning candidates since the beginning of the 2009, we know that there will be at least two professors who buck the liberal trend in the coming months: both Cameron and Kahn said they will contribute again later this year.

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