Yale affiliates donated $1.8 million this election cycle, primarily to liberal causes
FEC and SEEC filings show that affiliates mainly poured support into Democratic campaigns.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
Yale affiliates largely backed Democrats in state and federal elections this year, according to donation data gathered from the Federal Elections Commission and the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
FEC filings demonstrate that University and Yale-New Haven Health employees contributed approximately $1,622,428 to federal candidates since Jan. 1, 2021, while SEEC filings show that they donated about $177,509 to state and local candidates. Around 93 percent of national-level donations made by University and YNHH employees went to Democratic and liberal causes, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to tracking money in politics. Around 74 percent of donations went to Democrats in state and local elections according to the SEEC filings.
“I think academic institutions have a particular responsibility and opportunity to have influence in key important issues,” said professor emeritus of and senior research scientist in psychiatry Bruce Wexler, who donated to Democratic candidates and organizations this year. “It’s an abrogation of a certain type of social responsibility to not be as active as you can in addressing that, drawing on the privilege we have as highly educated people with the privilege to study and think about these things.”
The majority of affiliates’ donations went to causes outside of the state, according to OpenSecrets. Recipients of the highest donation totals included Sens. Raphael Warnock, D-GA, Mark Kelly, D-AZ, and Tim Ryan, the Democratic candidate in Ohio.
George Lister MED ’73, professor of pediatrics and cellular and molecular physiology at the School of Medicine, donated to Democrats in the swing states of Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire. Comparing such races to those in the “relatively calm environment” of Connecticut, Lister emphasized the importance of nationwide issues this cycle, like women’s rights, gun safety and free speech.
“We’re voting for a Senate that has influence over what gets pushed forward to the Supreme Court, not by a direct line, but by nominating heavy candidates in the court system and to some extent by creating laws,” Lister told the News.
Officeholders representing Connecticut at the national level still received sizable support from Yale affiliates. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven in the U.S. House, both far outraised their opponents Leora Levy and Lesley DeNardis among Yale affiliates and in general. Employees donated $50,545 to the Friends of Rosa DeLauro committee and ActBlue earmarks for DeLauro, while giving only $25 to DeNardis. Blumenthal raised $71,947 through his committees and ActBlue; Levy received $1,721 from Yale affiliates.
Carlos Eire, professor of history and religious studies, donated $100 to the Levy campaign. One of only two faculty members who donated to Levy, he told the News he was surprised he was not the only one.
Like Levy, Eire is a Cuban refugee and listed “stemming the spread of dictatorships abroad,” “stemming the growth of intolerance,” reducing crime and improving the economy as issues most important to him this election cycle.
“Up until this year I had [never] made any donations to any candidate running for office anywhere,” Eire wrote to the News before the election. “This election cycle, I’ve only donated to Leora Levy… She understands the myriad evils of socialism and communism from personal experience, just as I do. So, I trust her to make wiser decisions regarding foreign and domestic policy than her opponent.”
This election cycle, candidates, parties and political organizations raised slightly less money from Yale community members than in the previous midterm election cycle. From 2017-2018, FEC filings totaled about $1,700,345 in donations, representing about a 5 percent decrease this year. This year’s donations, however, are a steep uptick from the 2013-2014 cycle, where federal contributions only totaled $529,500.
State candidates and political organizations, meanwhile, received more this year than during the past two midterm elections. From 2017 to 2018, Yale affiliates contributed a total of $158,737; from 2013 to 2014, they contributed a total of $85,249.
Incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 and his opponent, Bob Stefanowski, largely self-funded their campaigns for governor, giving themselves about $21.7 million and $12 million respectively.
Despite falling behind in the polls and in total funds, Stefanowski outraised Lamont in non-self donations, receiving $1,573,658 to Lamont’s $554,488. Stefanowski also led among University affiliates, with donations to the Bob for Governor committee making up about 59 percent of all Yale contributions in the race.
Other Connecticut races included those for New Haven’s delegation to the state senate and house, where Democrats overwhelmingly raised more than their opponents among Yale employees. Of the total $2,431 in Yale affiliates’ contributions to the senate races, Democratic incumbent senators Martin Looney and Gary Winfield received about 86 percent and their Republican opponents received about 13 percent.
Yale affiliates gave somewhat more to non-Democrats running for New Haven’s state house seats than those in the state senate, giving two Republican candidates around 19 percent of donations and one independent candidate around 16 percent of donations. Seven seats represent New Haven in the state house, all of which are held by Democrats.
Beyond finances, some Yale community members have looked toward other avenues for election participation. On Saturday, a group of students from Yale Dems traveled to Bethel, Connecticut to canvas for incumbent U.S. representative Jahana Hayes and state senate candidate Tim Gavin. s
“I think it’s critical for Yale students to get involved in local and state campaigns. National races get the majority of the attention, but oftentimes smaller-scale races affect people’s lives just as much,” Ryan Smith ’24, Yale Dems’ election coordinator, wrote to the News. “A variety of important issues, including access to abortion, are currently being decided by state legislatures, and if Congress becomes deadlocked after this election then the importance of state and local governments will only grow.”
The University itself has largely kept quiet on political issues this cycle. Political contributions from tax-exempt organizations, like Yale and other universities, are prohibited, but Yale’s most prominent administrative figures have still taken public political stances in the past.
Former University President Kingman Brewster ’41, Wexler pointed out, used his “bully pulpit” to influence public opinion and the government on important issues during his tenure from 1963 to 1977, such as the Vietnam War and racial justice. Wexler lamented Yale’s current silence on pressing issues like “the Big Lie” — widespread Republican denial of the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
On an individual level, University figures have still tried to use their power to influence politics. Throughout the past few years, Wexler, who has written a book on neurobiology, social change and ideology, has published Op-eds on the pandemic and evangelicals’ relationship with Trump. He further commended Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, professor and associate dean at the School of Management, for organizing a summit of hundreds of university presidents and CEOs to condemn Trump’s election lie earlier this year.
“I think there have been times when leadership of major academic institutions have used their bully pulpit and influence of their institution to make statements relevant to key political issues of the moment. That’s not been the case more recently,” Wexler said. “[Sonnenfeld] was able to bring together the corporate leaders…he didn’t hesitate to turn it towards political things.”
Others, like Lister, stressed the importance of donations as a simple means to participate in democracy, especially for those with limited resources. Between individuals, Lister added, open discussion and understanding others’ perspectives are vital to healthy political participation.
“Democracy is not going to heal itself,” he noted.
Blumenthal and DeLauro have represented their constituencies for 11 years and 31 years, respectively.
Correction, Nov. 9: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Rep. Jahana Hayes as a state representative.