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A look at UMN employee political donations

Between congressional and federal races, Democratic candidates receive more donations by a large margin.
Image by Morgan La Casse

University of Minnesota employees are putting their money where their mouth is for the 2020 election season.

Political donations from University faculty and staff have more than tripled compared to the 2016 election. Democrats have raked in significantly more than Republicans throughout the last five presidential election seasons dating back to 2004, and the difference is especially stark this year.

Adjusting for inflation, University employees have donated nearly $3 million to all federal candidates over the last five presidential election seasons. Approximately $737,000 more was spent toward all federal campaigns this year compared to the 2016 election.

The Minnesota Daily gathered data from the Federal Election Commission and, courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics, to find out where 2020 political donations are going from individuals who identified the University of Minnesota as their employer.

Where are donations going?


University of Minnesota employees donate the most to Democratic candidates, who have raked in more than $1.2 million between all federal races. By comparison, Republicans have received less than $19,000 within those races.

Local candidates who have received some of the most money include Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith and Antone Melton-Meaux. Joe Biden has garnered the most University-employee donations with almost $213,000.

Looking at the contentious race to unseat Ilhan Omar from the U.S. House of Representatives, University employees donated significantly to Antone Melton-Meaux, her Democratic contender, who dropped out when he was losing by a wide margin in the primary.

University employees directed $390 to her Republican opponent, Lacy Johnson. No data is available saying if University employees donated to the Legal Marijuana Now candidate, Michael Moore.

Who donates?

Having grown up in Washington D.C., Fred Dulles has been interested in politics since the Nixon administration. Now the University “data wrangler” tries to donate everywhere he can to make a difference.

“What we need is for people to participate,” said Dulles, who works in the Office of the Vice President for Research. “Certainly by voting, but also by volunteering and/or giving money. I believe in giving a lot of small contributions all over the map where I think they’ll do the most good, so that’s what I try to do.”

Dulles is just one of many University employees who gives multiple small donations to more Democratic or progressive candidates and causes throughout the country.

David Walsh, an associate professor who runs the University’s opera program, said he donates “cautiously,” giving in small increments based on the political climates. He said Julián Castro was his first donation and that he has since donated to national progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren.

Walsh said he has also donated to local candidates like Angie Craig and Tina Smith.

“I feel I really support those candidates who are, I think, speaking up on behalf of everyday people, and the broad concerns that we all have in the country about where it’s going,” Walsh said. “This is not a time to sit out.”

Twyla Treanor, a computer applications teacher on the Crookston campus, said she donated to and is voting for Trump because of his money, fame and power, which said marks his ability to be successful. She added that she appreciates that he is “authentic.”

“I know, as an educator, you always admire those people who work hard, and I think he works very hard,” Treanor said. “While [Trump]’s busy working this week, Biden is sitting at home. And that’s just a good example of it — we can’t have that.”

Even though donations are publicly reported, many donors felt hesitant discussing their contributions and declined to comment, worried about the impact their statements could have on their work at the University.

“It just makes everyone wary,” said Vanessa Dayton, clinical assistant professor in Laboratory Medicine pathology. “I would hate to be quoted as saying anything in the Daily that would come back and reflect negatively on my department or our institution.”

Dayton did voice her support for Jaime Harrison, a contender for the seat of Lindsey Graham, the outspoken South Carolinian Republican senator. She said she believes in Harrison’s ability to “rise to our current crises.”

Many donors said they are especially passionate about the presidential election and the impact the elected president could have on the country’s future.

“I believe that our democracy is ailing … I think every four years people running will tell you, ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime,’” said Dulles. “This probably is the most important election of our lifetime.”

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