The Collegian
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Faculty contribute to Democrats' federal campaigns, records show

Staff members who donate money to federal campaigns tend to support the Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission records.

A search of FEC filings from Jan. 1, 2006, to the present showed that seven university employees had contributed $4,750 to federal campaigns, $3,500 of which went to Democratic candidates and committees. Of that, $2,750 was sent to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

A look back at contributions since the 2004 presidential election reveals the same trend -- only one professor gave directly to the Bush-Cheney team.

The 2006-07 donors included three professors from the School of Arts and Sciences, two from the T.C. Williams School of Law, one from the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business and one of the university's two chancellors, all of whom listed the university as their employer on the forms. The findings were not exhaustive because some contributors might not have named the university as their primary employer or could have chosen to contribute in conjunction with, and under the name of, a spouse or family member.

The largest single contribution came from journalism professor Steve Nash, who gave $2,300 to the Obama campaign. FEC law allows no one to donate more than $2,300 to a specific candidate or candidate committee per election or more than $65,500 to all parties and Political Action Committees biennially.

No one during the 2006-07 period has given to a specific Republican candidate, but Chancellor Richard L. Morrill donated to a PAC that leaned toward the GOP: the Richmond-based Albemarle Corporation PAC, which gave 73 percent of its funding to Republican House and Senate candidates during 2006.

During the hotly contested 2008 Democratic primary presidential election, Obama's $2,750 from Richmond staff far outweighs the $250 headed for Sen. Hillary Clinton.

John R. Pagan, a professor at the law school, was that Clinton supporter. He also gave an equal amount to Obama.

"They're my dream ticket," Pagan said of a Clinton-Obama campaign. "I'd like to see both of them nominated. I'd like to see Sen. Clinton nominated for president and Sen. Obama for vice president, but I think the country would be well-served if Obama won."

Pagan teaches a course on election law and said he lets his students know upfront about his political affiliation. Pagan ran for office five times as a Democrat and served as a county supervisor and state senator in Arkansas. It was in that capacity that he became familiar with Clinton and her husband, Bill.

"I knew Hillary as a leader in education and a lot of other fields," Pagan said. "I knew her as a highly respected lawyer, and I would go to bar meetings where she would teach ... She was quite a good lawyer, and we in the bar looked to her as a mentor."

Accusations of rampant liberalism are common in academic settings. An informal study by reporters at the Yale Daily News found that contributions to Democrats outweighed those of the Republicans 45 to 1. But Pagan said his party loyalty doesn't affect his classroom demeanor.

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"I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat -- always have been, always will be," he said. "I voted for nothing but Democrats my entire life in a general election. I'm a Roosevelt Democrat; I've always been very proud of that.

"I've never rewarded anybody for sharing my views nor punished anybody with different views. Fortunately at the university we have an excellent policy on academic freedom and on nondiscrimination."

Sophomore Kailey Murphy said she was not sure that that principle applied to all professors. Murphy considers herself a slightly right conservative but said since high school, she had become accustomed to having liberal teachers.

When asked how she knew of their political views, Murphy said, "I feel like I can just kind of sense when people are liberal." She also pointed out criticism leveled at the presidential administration as a signal, but acknowledged that it probably changed based on what political party controlled the White House.

Murphy also said that although politics did not enter the content of all of her courses, in those dealing with issues like social policy and global warming, the professors' own views came into play a little too often. "I just had trouble accepting some of the things my teacher would tell me," she said.

University contributors might seem to be in a Democratic bubble on campus, but the Commonwealth of Virginia ranked first in the nation for campaign contributions to Republicans last year, giving $72.3 million to the GOP during the 2005-06 election cycle, according to statistics by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Whether there is truth to the charges of political bias -- seven donors are not necessarily representative of the 347 full-time faculty members on campus -- Pagan sticks with his convictions. He said he is likely to donate again to both Obama and Clinton, and to the winner of the Democratic Party nomination for president.

Next quarter's FEC contributions report will be made public Oct. 15.

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