University employees have donated almost exclusively to President Obama in this election cycle.
Forty individual donors have contributed a total of $37,872 to Obama’s campaign. Only one donation of $500 was made by a former University employee to Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.
Twenty-six professors contributed $24,439 to Obama’s campaign, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan site tracking campaign donations that is run by the Center for Responsive Politics. This overall donation value includes other self-identified members of staff who listed Brown as their employer.
Faculty members have also donated $14,577 to the Obama Victory Fund, a committee that fundraises for both Obama’s 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The Federal Election Commission does not require candidates to report donations of less than $200. For this reason, only larger donations were included in calculating these figures.
The University’s political spending follows a larger trend in national fundraising at higher education institutions. Earlier in the election season, faculty members at Ivy League institutions had donated a total of $375,932 to Obama and $60,465 to Romney, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in a May 17 article.
Only at Harvard Business School did Romney hold an advantage – he received $14,000 compared to Obama’s $11,400 as of May, according to Bloomberg.
In 2008, The Herald reported a 10:1 fundraising advantage for Obama over McCain by professors at Brown. This compares to a nearly 50:1 advantage in reported donations from professors in this election cycle.
“The Republican Party has shifted rightwards,” said Michael Tesler, assistant professor of political science who is teaching POLS 1120: “Campaigns and Elections” this semester. The increased influence of the Tea Party on the Republicans may have discouraged donations from professors because “if you’re a professor at Brown and you’re a Republican, my guess is that you’re not that type of Republican,” Tesler said.
Ken Miller ’70 P’02, professor of biology, donated a total of $1,000 to Obama for this election cycle. In 2008, he donated $500 to Obama’s campaign as well as $500 to MoveOn.Org, a nonprofit website dedicated to supporting progressive electoral candidates.
Miller said he believes Obama is the right person to the lead the country and donated to the President’s campaign because he knew that Romney’s campaign would also receive a substantial amount of funds.
Miller said he does not believe political bias factors into his teaching.
“I’m not sure there’s a liberal or conservative view of the Krebs cycle,” he said, noting that if he addresses a public issue within the classroom, the issue usually deals directly with science.
But Miller added that he does “think that when you come on to the university campus, when you go into your classroom, you don’t ever lose your individual opinions.”
Professor of Philosophy Charles Larmore has donated over $2,500 to the President this election cycle.
“No doubt some educated people find it in their economic interest to support Republican candidates since the Republican Party is also the party of the rich,” Larmore wrote in an email to The Herald. “But no thinking person, with the exception of a few oddballs, can identify with the ideas of this party.”
“I will do all I can to keep Romney and the Republicans from regaining control of the White House,” he wrote. Larmore added that he donated about the same amount to Obama’s 2008 campaign.
James Fingleton, former clinical assistant professor of surgery at the Alpert Medical School, was the only Brown employee to report donations to Romney. Fingleton, who contributed $500 to Romney’s campaign, left Brown at the end of August for a position as chief of cardiovascular surgery for the Southcoast Health System in Massachusetts.
“I can’t agree with the direction that Obama is taking the country,” Fingleton told Bloomberg in May.
Professors tend to have liberal leanings for a variety of reasons, Tesler said, which include self-selection, groupthink and socioeconomic luck.
“When you’re thinking about a profession, if you’re a conservative, are you going to want to go into a profession that’s dominated by liberals?” Tesler said.
Tesler also identified an element of groupthink in the liberal tendencies of academics. Working as a professor, constant exposure to liberal espousing by colleagues may influence one’s own political views, he said.
Total donations may be affected in this election cycle by the groundbreaking Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling. In 2010, the Supreme Court determined a 5-4 decision that the government could not ban corporate expenditure for electoral candidates, on the grounds that regulation of partisan spending would be a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
In the wake of the ruling, individual donors must continue to contribute funds, Miller said.
“Since the Supreme Court – wrongly, in my view – has equated money with speech, I figure it is incumbent upon those of us who want to have our voices heard to put our dollars behind that,” Miller said.
“Citizens United is an absolute disaster,” Tesler said, but he noted that the ruling is unlikely to have a major impact on individual expenditure at the presidential level. “It probably won’t matter that much because Obama is amazing at fundraising,” he said. Obama had raised a total of $690.1 million this election cycle compared to Romney’s $633 million as of July, according to the New York Times.
The major difference will be a Republican advantage in Super PAC spending, though Obama will likely still outraise Romney in this election due to a greater number of individual donations, Tesler said.