Penn professors donated the largest amount of money ever during a midterm election year to federally registered political committees in 2022.
According to an analysis by The Daily Pennsylvanian, faculty members at Penn made 3,976 individual contributions totaling over $300,000 in donations last year — a 13% increase from the previous midterm election year in 2018. The increase in donations came as OpenSecrets projected before the election that total federal campaign spending would exceed $8 billion — a record high for a midterm election year.
The DP analyzed more than 37,900 campaign donations by faculty members made between January 2011 and December 2022. The data was obtained from the Federal Election Commission, which maintains a database of individuals who have contributed over $200 to federally registered political committees.
Donations by Penn faculty have increased significantly over time for both general and midterm election years. For example, Penn faculty donated over $1 million in 2020, a nearly 130% increase from 2016, the previous general election year.
Political donations from faculty tend to peak one or two months before a general or midterm election, with professors donating over $230,000 in September 2020 and over $62,000 in October 2022, both record amounts for the collection period.
Penn Political Science professor Daniel Hopkins told the DP that September and October are such popular donation months during election years because of a “combination of [these months] being a time period when a lot of campaigns are very aggressively soliciting donations, and many professors being very plugged into campaigns.”
Donations from 2021 to 2022 show that Penn professors overwhelmingly donated to causes that support Democrats in recent years. ActBlue, the Democrat Party’s fundraising platform, received over $120,000 from faculty members — over 150 times larger than the amount of money donated to WinRed, the Republican Party’s fundraising platform. WinRed received just under $700 in donations from professors.
“I think that's definitely to be expected. For whatever reason, professors tend to definitely be noticeably left-leaning,” College first-year and Penn College Republicans political director Peter Kapp said.
Nicole Giegerich, a College sophomore and the communications director of Penn Democrats, was also not surprised by the DP's findings.
“We’re not surprised that professors donate to Democratic causes," Giegerich said. "This reflects a larger pattern across institutions like Penn that professors tend to lean more Democrat."
According to Hopkins, more highly educated people have increasingly supported Democrats in recent years, as “the role of faith in politics versus the role of scientific facts has become one of the key things that distinguishes the parties.”
Newly inaugurated Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) received the most campaign donations from Penn professors from 2021 to 2022, raising over $37,000. Campaign donations do not include fundraising platforms such as ActBlue or WinRed, but rather contributions to specific candidates' campaigns. Fellow Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) received the second most donations in the same time period, raising over $17,000.
The highest-raising Independent candidate from January 2021 to December 2022 was Evan McMullin, a Penn in Washington faculty member and former Republican who received $1,000 worth of donations from Penn professors towards his candidacy in the 2022 Utah Senate race against Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). During his senate campaign, McMullin co-taught a course on the conservative movement.
Kelly Loeffler received the most money from professors among Republican candidates during the same time period, according to our data. Loeffler received $90 from Penn faculty towards her candidacy in the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff race against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
In addition to Fetterman and Casey, other candidate campaigns that received a substantial amount in donations include Georgia Sen. Warnock, Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
“One of the trends that we’ve seen in campaign finance is that candidates increasingly raise money from outside of their home districts and even their home states,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins added that Warnock and Hassan solicited many donations because they were candidates in two highly competitive regional elections that “were potentially races on which Senate control could hinge.”
From 2011 to 2022, President Joe Biden received the most money from Penn faculty, garnering over $195,000 worth of donations. Former President Barack Obama received the second-most donations in the same time period, raising over $140,000.
All of the ten highest fundraising candidates among Penn professors from 2011 to 2022 belong to the Democrat Party. Neither Penn Democrats nor Penn College Republicans view professors as a base that they aim to engage, but both said there is value to professors being politically aware.
Kapp said that professors have the right to hold their own political views but that their beliefs should not “seep into how they're teaching … which I don't think is necessarily true on Penn's campus today.”
Giegerich held the opposite sentiment, saying that she has never been able to tell the political leanings of her professors in her political science classes, but believes that professors should be politically engaged outside of the classroom.
“It's important for professors to be politically engaged for really the same reason it is for all members of the community,” Giegerich said. “Just because that's how democracy works.”