Seven of eight University trustees who donated in the 2018 election cycle gave money to Democratic campaigns and political action committees, amassing a total of almost $4 million in donations, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Though Yale is subject to restrictions on its political activity because of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, members of the Yale Corporation, the University’s governing body with 17 regular members, are not. According to the News’ analysis of public data on political contributions, donations in the 2018 election cycle largely mirrored those of previous years: More trustees gave to Democratic candidates and groups than those who gave to Republicans. In the midterms, only one trustee, Charles Waterhouse Goodyear IV ’80, donated to Republican candidates and political action committees.
This election cycle, Joshua Bekenstein ’80, a trustee and managing director of Bain Capital, gave Democrats $3.5 million, the largest donation by a member of the Yale Corporation. All other political donations ranged from $1,000 to $30,000.
Students interviewed by the News remained unsurprised by the liberal slant of the Corporation and did not find it problematic that the majority of trustees donated to left-leaning causes.
“Given that Yale, like a lot of elite academic institutions, has a liberal skew reflected across much of the University, it doesn’t surprise me that a number of trustees have given to Democrats or left-leaning groups,” said Lucas Ferrer ’21, fundraising director for Yale’s student-run political action committee, Students for a New American Politics PAC.
Ferrer told the News that “as private citizens,” the trustees are free to express their political views as they see fit. He added that as long as the trustees continue to fulfill their duty to the University, the political skew is not indicative of bias in the University’s governing body.
Indeed, Cameron Koffman ’19, president of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program echoed Ferrer, saying that the trustees’ politics are peripheral to the trustees’ ability to govern Yale.
“I think the political leanings of Corporation members are irrelevant so long as they are effective stewards of this institution,” Koffman said. “What matters is that they work toward fulfilling Yale’s vision of a liberal arts education that prizes the free exchange of ideas, not whether they give money to Democrats or Republicans.”
However, not all members of the Yale community have remained untroubled by a perceived political bias in the Yale Corporation. James Kirchick ’06, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the position of alumni fellow last summer, claimed that the Yale administration was policing and coddling its students. He asserted that no one on the Corporation represented his viewpoint. Kirchick, who announced his defeat in October, declined to comment for this story.
Last week, the News found that the University’s faculty members overwhelmingly donate to Democrats. Public data from the Federal Election Commission revealed that Yale professors, lecturers and instructors have donated $302,943 to political candidates, political action committees and nonprofit organizations since Jan. 1. Of these donations, 96 percent funded Democratic political campaigns and political action committees.
“It’s no surprise that at a university with a liberal student body and where 96 percent of faculty donations went to Democrats that a similar partisan lean exists on the Corporation,” Koffman told the News.
In a statement to the News two weeks ago, Richard Jacob, who works at Yale’s Office of Federal Relations, told the News that the University does not engage in partisan activities, nor does it support or oppose political candidates in elections. All 501(c)(3) organizations that receive tax exemptions — including Yale and other universities — are prohibited from taking a position on political candidates. Still, no regulations prohibit Yale’s faculty, staff and trustees from making political contributions, Jacob said.
Over the past year, students have criticized the Corporation for being out of touch with student concerns, according to Koffman.
“Given the prevalence of the view among Yale students that the Corporation is fundamentally nonaligned with them, it’s worth noting that these Corporation members do donate to causes and candidates that most of the student body would support,” Koffman said.
The Corporation meets at least five times each academic year.
Lorenzo Arvanitis | firstname.lastname@example.org