The education industry is a leader in overall federal campaign contributions this election cycle, and Stanford University is no exception. The University ranked third among peer institutions in the level of private donations to 2008 presidential candidates, according to an Oct. 29 analysis from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). These contributions, made primarily by University faculty and administrators, go, in large part, to support candidates from the Democratic Party.
Over the past 20 years, Stanford has consistently ranked among the top 15 universities in campaign contributions, according to the CRP. The University has often placed among the top five universities, especially in the recent past.
In the 2000 presidential election, Stanford ranked third with contributions totaling nearly $500,000, two-thirds of which were earmarked for Democratic candidates. Stanford was fourth in the 2004 presidential campaign with $625,000 in donations; an overwhelming 92 percent of contributions went to Democratic candidates that year.
Contributions from Stanford affiliates for the 2008 presidential campaigns totaled just over $180,000 as of Oct. 29. Over 100 donations had been made to presidential campaigns, with 70 percent of funds going to support Democratic candidates. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) received 36 percent of Stanford-affiliate contributions, the highest of any candidate, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) followed with 30 percent.
History Prof. David Kennedy, an elected delegate to the Presidential Nominating Convention in Los Angeles in 2000, has contributed to two Democratic campaigns this election cycle, and said he has "long supported Democratic candidates."
"There was nothing in particular that prompted me to contribute this year," Kennedy said. "It's been a life-long practice of mine to support people I believe in. And I did, this time around, support Barack Obama at the very highest legal level. I believe in him strongly; I have great hopes for him."
Kennedy, who also contributed to Clinton's campaign, said he was not surprised that many of his colleagues had supported Democratic candidates this year. By and large, he said, college faculties tend to be liberal in their political affiliation, and this is especially the case in the Bay Area. But he did not think conservative voices were underrepresented at Stanford.
"Stanford is a little unusual, in that it has a very strong Republican-oriented wing of the faculty," Kennedy said. "The Hoover Institution provides a home for people of that persuasion. In the world of university faculties, we're probably a little less liberal than some others."
Political Science Prof. Morris Fiorina is a Hoover Institution Senior Fellow who supports Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas).
"As a registered Libertarian since the late 1970s I hope that next year at this time I can say that I am one of fewer than 400,000 Americans who had the good sense to vote twice for Ron Paul for president," Fiorina said. "Why? Because Libertarians stand for individual freedom, in contrast to the other parties which are all statist in their own way."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have proven to be popular Republican candidates among conservative Stanford faculty, each locking in about 10 percent of total presidential contributions from University affiliates. Meanwhile, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, another national frontrunner, had no fiscal support from Stanford affiliates as of Oct. 29, in line with national trends that rank him dead last among major candidates in academic contributions.
Stanford is not alone in its political activism or in its liberal leanings. Academia ranked eighth among industry donors i the 2004 election cycle and ranked 12th this campaign season, ahead of such heavyweights as oil, gas and pharmaceuticals. Seventy-six percent of the education industry's federal contributions this cycle have gone to Democratic candidates.
Obama has received just over $2.1 million in contributions from academia, while Clinton received $1.6 million. Of the Republican candidates, only Romney broke the $500,000 mark.
Academia was not always so influential. A decade ago, total campaign contributions from universities hovered around $7 million per election cycle. That changed in 2000, when contributions more than doubled to $17 million. In 2004, contributions from academia more than doubled again, coming in at $38 million.
That year, University of California system affiliates contributed more to the campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) than any other single employer nationally, donating more than double the amount given by Kerry's largest corporate donor.
In an interview last August, Luke Rosiak, a CRP researcher, suggested that widespread opposition to President George W. Bush has galvanized political activism among academics.
"The amount of money people [in general] are spending to influence politics has certainly increased over time, but there's definitely something else going on here," Rosiak said. "You don't need to be an expert in campaign finance to see that there was an astronomical jump in political giving among academics in 2004."
After all, college campuses have long been known for their liberal politics.
"It hasn't surprised anyone who these academics are giving to -- what's surprising is how much they're giving," Rosiak said.
This level of activism has alarmed conservatives, leading some to suggest that liberal partisanship among academics compromises the academic credibility of their institutions by polarizing and politicizing university campuses. Conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly said as much on his show last year, citing Rosiak's analysis of the education industry.
Rosiak said he didn't know if he agreed that investing in political campaigns jeopardized academic neutrality. The bottom line, he said, is that professors "do have a right to participate in the democratic process."
Kennedy also dismissed pundits' charges of partisanship in the classroom.
"When you teach a subject like I do, you cannot let your own affiliation color the way you approach subjects of a political nature," he said. "There's a line that separates what you do in the classroom and what you do publicly, as a citizen.
"You cannot contribute other than publicly, that's the law," he added. "There's nothing clandestine about that. And I'm not going to become a political eunuch; I have a life beyond the classroom."
Devin Banerjee contributed to this article.
© 2008 The Stanford Daily via U-WIRE