U employees give more to Dems

Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., might want to schedule a fund-raising dinner on the University campus.

With the presidential election less than three months away, University employees have contributed nearly 30 times more money to Kerry than they have to President George W. Bush, according to the latest campaign finance records.

University employees have donated $63,510 to Kerry’s campaign and $2,150 to Bush’s re-election bid through June, according to data compiled for The Minnesota Daily by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington.

Campaign finance records show a national trend of increased contributions from universities compared to previous years.

In 2000, Bush received more than his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Al Gore, but this year, Kerry has garnered more than two times more money from universities than Bush, nationally.

The figures are based on employer information stated by donors of $200 or more and do not reflect giving by the universities themselves.

Because of the close presidential race, some University employees said they are donating more this year in an effort to influence the outcome.

History professor Lisa Norling said she contributed the maximum allowed donation of $2,000 to Kerry because she opposes almost all of Bush’s policies.

“I think President Bush has taken this country in exactly the wrong direction in practically every area,” Norling said. “I think the last four years have been a disaster in terms of both domestic and foreign policy.”

Physics professor Allen Goldman, who also gave $2,000 to Kerry, said he has contributed to other campaigns in the past, but not on this scale.

“I can’t find anything (Bush) has done that I think will lead to good things in the long run,” Goldman said. “The economy, the war, anything having to do with science is totally negative.

“I think he needs to be replaced. Period,” Goldman said.

History professor Jim Tracy contributed $800 to Bush’s re-election campaign – the most of any University employee.

Tracy said he supports Bush’s policy of tax cuts to stimulate the economy, and he thinks the war in Iraq will bring democracy to the country and help improve relations in the Middle East.

“I think in terms of everything that has happened since Sept. 11 a few years ago, the best defense is a good offense,” he said. “And I think the Bush administration has handled that fairly well.”

But Tracy said he knows his support for Bush is the minority opinion among University employees.

“I think it’s pretty well known that there’s an overwhelming difference in the number of university faculty who support Democratic candidates as opposed to Republican candidates, and I don’t think things are any different here,” he said.

A national trend

Support for Kerry from higher-education employees in this year’s campaign is a trend that stretches far beyond the University campus.

In fact, Kerry has garnered historic support from university employees across the country.

Steven Weiss, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said donations from university employees are up dramatically nationwide this year. In fact, education ranks third among major industries – behind lawyers/law firms and retired people – in dollars given to the Kerry campaign, he said.

In the 2004 election cycle, Kerry has received $3.8 million from university employees, while Bush has received $1.6 million.

The strong Democratic support represents a significant change from the 2000 election cycle, when Bush received $1.1 million to Vice President Al Gore’s $938,000, Weiss said.

University of California employees have given more to Kerry than any other group, and Harvard University employees follow in second place.

No major presidential candidate has ever had universities rank as his top two contributors, Weiss said.

Education often ranks among the top 20 industries in Democratic contributions, but it is rare to see it rank so high, and even rarer to have individual institutions high on the list, Weiss said.

Contributions are probably up this year because the maximum individual contribution doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 since the 2000 election, Weiss said.

Higher-education employees also tend to be more politically active, he said, and in a close election such as this year’s, those who are most active tend to become even more active.

University contributions can become even more noteworthy at the local level.

While the $63,510 University of Minnesota employees have donated to Kerry pales in comparison to the $363,175 given by University of California employees, Minnesota has far fewer employees.

The University of Minnesota employs about 17,000, compared with 160,000 at the University of California.

Five universities rank among Kerry’s top 20 donors, compared with none in Bush’s top 20.

Among Big Ten universities, the University of Michigan has contributed the most to Kerry’s campaign with $110,000. Michigan ranks 17th overall among Kerry donors.

Meanwhile, University of Illinois employees are some of the strongest supporters of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Illinois employees have given $5,250 to his campaign, ranking fourth among his contributors.

Even also-ran Democratic candidates have done well among university employees.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean drew the most donations from higher education employees. After he withdrew from the race, Kerry began receiving more donations, Weiss said.

“What it does indicate is that the enthusiasm for Howard Dean among education employees quickly became enthusiasm for John Kerry once Dean dropped out,” Weiss said.

At the University of Minnesota, Dean received more than $8,000 from employees.

Wesley Clark, D-Mo., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., also received more money than Bush from employees giving $200 or more.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg contributed $2,000 to Lieberman’s campaign.

Regent Frank Berman contributed $2,000 to the Bush campaign. His donation does not count toward the total given by University employees, because regents are not actually employees, but rather serve in a volunteer capacity.

Making an impact

Kerry’s advantage in the higher-education industry comes in stark contrast to overall donations at both the state and federal levels.

In Minnesota, Bush has outpaced Kerry approximately $2.1 million to $1.7 million. Nationally, Bush leads roughly $228.7 million to $189.6 million.

Because the education industry has been Kerry’s largest base of support, it could play a significant role in Kerry’s overall success.

David Schultz, a professor in the Graduate School of Public Administration and Management at Hamline University, said University of Minnesota contributions alone would not make a major difference in the election, but when combined with donations from other universities, they could.

That money will provide valuable advertising dollars and voter-drive resources, Schultz said.

The large gap in political contributions also indicates Kerry might target university campuses for get-out-the-vote efforts, he said.

“The money is important,” Schultz said. “But more importantly, it is telling us a base of support that can very well be mobilized for Election Day.”

Candidates cannot receive money from individual donors once they accept their party’s nomination, so Kerry’s stream of contributions has stopped.

Meanwhile, Bush can continue to solicit donations, including those from university employees, until he accepts the Republican nomination at the party’s convention in New York from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.

But Weiss said he does not expect Bush to close the contribution gap before then.

“I don’t expect it to narrow very much,” Weiss said. “University employees tend to be politically active, and it’s likely they’ve been paying attention to the presidential race for some time. Therefore, it is not very likely that they will be suddenly motivated to contribute as a result of the convention.”

Liberal bias on campus

The gap in political contributions has caused some to question whether there is a liberal bias on university campuses.

Schultz said educators and teachers unions have historically supported Democrats. He said he does not believe there is an ideological bias in university hiring, but rather liberals are simply more likely to enter the education industry.

Liberals are less likely to be concerned with financial gain than conservatives are, Schultz said. Therefore, liberals are more likely to enter a career in education, while conservatives are more likely to enter the private sector, he said.

University political science professor Samantha Luks agreed.

“It could be that the type of personality that would be willing to take a pay cut to do a certain type of work he or she deems important may be more likely to vote Democratic,” Luks said.

Sara Dogan, national campus director for Students for Academic Freedom, said she thinks the reason for the liberal leaning on university campuses goes deeper than a self-selection process.

“I’ve heard that liberals are just more attracted to teaching,” Dogan said. “It’s possible, but that wouldn’t account for the immense discrepancy that there is Ö I definitely think there is some discrimination in the hiring process.”

Tracy said conservatives looking for an academic career would be “very stupid” to reveal their political beliefs, where as liberals commonly let their beliefs be known.

“I think people understand that there’s a certain political tilt in the academic culture and that if you don’t participate in that tilt yourself, it is simply a matter of prudence that you kind of keep that to yourself,” he said.

Luks, who taught political science at the University of California-Berkeley before coming to Minnesota, said she thinks the University of Minnesota actually tends to be more liberal than Berkeley.

She said Minnesota faculty members also tend to be more liberal than their Berkeley counterparts. Berkeley has more employees, so they are more likely to encompass a wider array of political views, she said.

Vice President and Associate Provost Tom Sullivan said the University of Minnesota does not consider political ideology when hiring employees.

“When we hire faculty, or promote faculty, one’s political leanings or opinions are not relevant,” Sullivan said.