From 1989 to 2009, a Yale graduate resided in the White House, and though no Yalie has appeared on the presidential ticket since then, recent political spending figures show the University still wields influence through lobbyists and campaign contributions from employees.
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Yale University has spent nearly half a million dollars to lobby lawmakers this year, making it the second-highest spender in the Ivy League behind the University of Pennsylvania. While federal laws forbid direct participation in partisan politics due to the University’s nonprofit status, Yale employees, free to donate to any candidate, contributed $429,506 toward candidates and political groups in this year’s election cycle.
Nearly 97 percent of the contributions from Yale employees were for Democratic candidates, the highest percentage among Ivy League schools. Dartmouth College had the lowest percentage of Democratic contributions, at just over 78 percent.
President Barack Obama — who defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the presidential election by a 3.5 million voter margin last week — received $221,176 in campaign contributions from Yale employees. This figure far exceeds the $8,705 University employees donated to Romney. Taken together, employees in the education industry provided Obama his third-largest source of income, together totaling $19.5 million. higher than donations from Wall Street securities and investment firms, Silicon Valley tech startups and the entertainment industry combined. Obama’s top source of funds came from University of California employees. Meanwhile, donations from the education industry ranked 15th in the largest donor groups for Romney, with only $3.1 million in contributions.
“Giving money is probably a poor substitute for volunteering, but it was I felt I could do,” said Yale philosophy professor and ethicist Steven Darwall ’68, who donated $2,500 to Obama last year.
University spokesman Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 made the largest contribution from a Yale employee with a $5,935 donation to the Democratic National Committee this October and a total contribution of $4,750 to Obama since January. His donations came closest to the individual contribution limit set out by the Federal Election Commission of $2,500 to a candidate per election for a total of $5,000 across both the primary and general election.
Morand declined to comment on the reasons for his donation.
“My household’s civic contributions are made personally … and are unrelated to the University or employment,” he wrote in a Wednesday email to the News.
Another Yale donor for Obama who contributed the $2,500 maximum contribution was William Rosenblatt, a professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the School of Medicine. Rosenblatt said he had “not been completely pleased” with Obama’s policies in his first term but donated because he was worried about the negative effects a Romney administration would have on access to health care for the uninsured.
“Though I believe that the principal problem with our current electoral system is the unfettered giving by individuals, corporations and unions, for the time being we need to ‘fight fire with fire,’” Rosenblatt wrote in a Tuesday email to the News. “The money on the conservative side is outrageous and must be answered.”
The largest donor to Mitt Romney’s campaign from Yale was Laura Niklason, professor of anesthesiology and biomedical engineering at the School of Medicine, reportedly donating $1,000 in June and $2,500 in September to Romney’s bid for the presidency. She declined to comment on her donations, writing in an email to the News that she prefers to keep her job and politics separate.
Other candidates who received large sums from Yale employees included Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85, a Connecticut Democrat who won a seat in the House of Representatives, and Democrat Chris Murphy, who defeated Republican challenger Linda McMahon for the Senate seat formerly held by Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67. Collectively, contributions from Yale University ranked as Murphy’s fourth-largest source of funds, behind two insurance companies and a law firm.
Employees from Harvard contributed the most among the Ivy League in the 2012 elections with $1.9 million. Contributions from employees at Columbia University, who gave $879,832, the University of Pennsylvania, which gave $571,838 and Cornell University, which saw $500,961 in political donations, also topped Yale’s contributions.
Yale also employs two lobbyists to communicate its interests in government. The University’s $440,000 in lobbying as of the end of October puts it as one of the highest in the education industry, and second highest in the Ivy League.
In recent years, Yale’s lobbyists have attempted to influence legislation to authorize stem cell research, repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and provide a road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children through the DREAM Act, among dozens of other bills.
The Center for Responsive Politics predicts that $6 billion was spent in the 2012 election, making it the most expensive in U.S. history.