In this election cycle, Penn employees are cumulatively the third-highest political donors among Ivy League schools.
University employees have made a total of $472,008 in political contributions this election cycle as of Oct. 11, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. $104,774 of contributions have gone to political action committees, parties and outside spending groups, while $367,233 went to individual candidates.
Of the candidate donations, $319,331 went to Democrats and $47,902 went to Republicans.
Penn is behind Harvard and Columbia universities in political donations; Harvard employees have donated $1,685,901 and Columbia employees have donated $675,724. Cornell University ranks fourth behind Penn with $426,762 donated so far.
Penn does not have an official policy governing individual donations.
“I think one of the brilliant things about Amy Gutmann’s governance is that there is not one voice,” Law School professor Sharon Lorenzo said. “You can speak up for what you believe in.”
‘Raise your hand and take part’
The top five recipients of individual contributions from Penn employees are President Barack Obama, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa), Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Massachusetts Senate candidate and former Law School professor Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Penn employees have made more individual contributions to Obama than Romney by a ratio of about 5.40 to 1. On the national scale, Obama is currently outraising Romney in individual contributions by a ratio of about 1.55 to 1.
Forty-three Penn employees have each made political donations totalling $2,000 or more in this cycle. Perelman School of Medicine emeritus professor Bayard Storey is the top contributor, so far giving $67,944 to Democratic candidates and organizations. Twelve employees gave a total of $5,000 or more.
All five of Penn’s top employee donors gave to Democratic candidates and organizations. Four of the top five are Perelman School of Medicine professors, while one is an English professor emerita.
Penn affiliates each had their own distinct reasons for giving to political campaigns.
Political science professor Rogers Smith is concerned that the current American government is too gridlocked to make “desperately needed investments in economic infrastructure, education, new energy sources and environmental protection, as well as affordable healthcare.” Smith has donated a total of $3,500 to Obama and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee because he believes that donating to a candidate and the DCCC is “the best chance to break the gridlock.”
“I think the critical issue is going to be replacing justices in the Supreme Court,” said Jonas Ellenberg, professor of biostatistics at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Ellenberg has donated $2,500 directly to Obama.
Warren, who taught at Penn’s Law School until 1995, has received a total of $21,110 from Penn employees.
“I am giving both to the person and the campaign,” Penn Law professor Sarah Barringer Gordon said about Warren, to whom she has donated $2,750. Warren was a senior colleague to Gordon at Penn Law and became Gordon’s mentor.
Lorenzo, the Penn Law professor, has donated $2,500 directly to Romney and $2,500 to the Republican National Committee. While she has been a Republican since 1969, she wants women and minorities to be “as big of priorities in the campaign as the fiscal, economic and foreign policy issues.”
“I think you can’t be critical if you don’t raise your hand and take part in it,” she said.
Political at Penn
Gordon said her time as a teacher of both undergraduates and graduate students has influenced her political thinking.
“I definitely think about the world my students will be entering into both as workers and graduate students,” she said. “I try not to wear politics on my sleeve as a teacher.”
Engineering professor David Pope has given $4,700 to Obama.
“Penn is a fairly politically homogenous place, at least down here at the Engineering School,” he said. “We tend not to talk about politics very much except maybe to make fun of the far-right ranting, as we see it.”
Pope had given so much to the Obama campaign that he received a “silly little thing with Obama’s photograph,” he said. Mistakenly, he also received one from the Romney campaign.
“I had both of these letters up on my office door and so everybody looked at that and had a good chuckle,” he said. At the end of last week, both of the letters disappeared.
Lorenzo, who helped organize fundraisers for Romney and attended Romney strategy meetings, feels that Penn has tremendous academic freedom.
“You can speak up for what you believe in, and in this university, free speech is very much a part of the Law School ideology,” she said.
Campaign finance laws
Although Penn employees and professors have donated money, many expressed distaste for the current campaign finance system. Penn employees have directly donated just over three times as much to candidates than to political action committees, parties and other spending groups.
Vice Dean of Innovation at the Wharton School Karl Ulrich gave $2,000 directly to Obama, although he dislikes the way campaigns are financed. He said he felt “an obligation to contribute to the candidates” whom he supports.
“A relatively few very wealthy donors control much of the money spent on campaigns, particularly spending on advertising,” he said in an email. “To me it is self-evident that this system will not accurately reflect the interests of the larger population.”
School of Social Policy and Practice professor Mark Stern, who donated $2,000 directly to Obama, said in an email that he rather would not have “spent [money] this way” if the Supreme Court had not “thrown out campaign finance laws.”
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that political spending is protected by the First Amendment.
Pope actively chose to give his money to Obama rather than the candidate’s PAC.
Though he “truly dislikes” donating to PACs, he will not rule it out in the future.
“I donate to candidates and the DCCC, not PACs, because I do not want the candidates I support to feel primarily indebted to PACs instead of voters like me,” Smith said in an email.
Others expressed displeasure with the amount of money spent on elections.
“The current system is ludicrous,” Ellenberg said. He added that the money spent “has little to do with making the electorate more knowledgeable or helping them to make the decision.”
“The amount of money that has been raised and spent on this campaign, I think, makes us all realize that perhaps we should revisit the question,” Lorenzo said. “It just does not reflect well on our priorities in terms of spending.”
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