Top Obama Campaign Contributors This Year: Professors

by Danielle Charette - Swarthmore College on November 5, 2012

Who beat Microsoft and Google billionaires this year as the top contributors to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign? None other than professors up and down the state of California.

Employees and faculty affiliated with the University of California system came in as the top Obama donor in the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group’s OpenSecrets.org website notes employees and educators associated with the massive, 10-campus system gave nearly $1.1 million to the president’s re-election bid, beating out employees at companies such as Microsoft, Google and Kaiser Permanente.

While the list of the top 20 donors to the Obama campaign puts the UC system on top, it’s not the only university on there. Harvard University came in fifth place at about $600,000 in donations, with Stanford University right behind in seventh place at $532,000.

Not to be outdone, Columbia University came in at ninth place with $411,000, followed by the University of Chicago at about $325,000 and in thirteenth place. Finally, University of Michigan came in at seventeenth place with $308,000 given to Obama.

The figures tally donations made during the 2012 election cycle and are based on Federal Election Commission data released electronically on Oct. 25, according to the website. Donations of $200 or more are tracked.

In reporting this data, the Center for Responsive Politics emphasized the “organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.”

And while there’s several universities on the center’s top 20 list, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Take the University of Iowa – ground zero for a lawsuit watched nationally alleging bias against conservatives. Its affiliates gave most of their campaign donations to Democrats this election season, the website’s data shows.

Since 2011, 83 percent of all campaign donations by employees and faculty affiliated with the University of Iowa went to Democrats, the OpenSecrets.org website shows. In the presidential race, University of Iowa’s affiliates doled out $95,016 to Barack Obama compared to just $10,900 for Mitt Romney.

A similar pattern can be established at universities across the nation, according to OpenSecrets.org:

At the University of Wisconsin, only 4.5 percent of faculty and employee donations went to Republicans. Donations at the University of Connecticut amount to just 3 percent for Republicans. There’s no indication that things are better at private schools, either. At Yale University, the GOP received a paltry 3.5 percent of 2011-12 political largesse.

Lopsided contributions like these are the norm in public and private colleges across the country, and it’s part of the reason why frustration over faculty bias in American higher education continues to mount, especially this election season.

Making matters worse, it equates to political discrimination in the classroom subsidized by taxpayers. The battle over the issue is far from over.

Last month, legal writing instructor Teresa Wagner took the University of Iowa Law School to federal court over claims that she’d been passed-over for tenure because of her pro-life activism. Wagner’s lawyers alleged that more than 90 percent of the law school faculty were registered Democrats, with “political views [that] are directly adverse to those held by the plaintiff.”

On Oct. 24, Wagner’s case was declared a mistrial, when the federal judge found the jury deadlocked. The Iowa City Press-Citizen clarified that the jury rejected Wagner’s First Amendment complaint but split on the question of whether or not the law school had properly upheld Wagner’s equal protection rights. The judge indicated that, barring a settlement, the case would be retried.

Although specific documentation of discrimination can be difficult to establish in cases like Wagner’s, public campaign contribution disclosures shed light on just how prominent the bias is throughout academia.

Private citizens, of course, are free to donate their salaries to campaigns of their choosing, but the one-sided spending is alarming nonetheless. Money speaks, and universities’ campaign spending speaks of underrepresented conservatives.

Fix contributor Danielle Charette is a student at Swarthmore College.

IMAGE: By 401(k) 2012/Flickr

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