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Professors Fund the Left By: Melisa Gao
The Daily Princetonian | Wednesday, September 15, 2004


More than 90 percent of donations from University employees this election cycle have gone to liberal causes, as Princeton joins peer institutions in reinforcing the image of a left-leaning ivory tower.

After effectively clinching the Democratic nomination on Super Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry secured $40,950 from donors identifying themselves as employees or affiliates of Princeton University. President Bush received a sole donation of $250, according to FEC records through June.

One of the most active donors is physics professor Chiara Nappi, who together with her husband, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies, has given $13,000 to liberal candidates and causes. Another $6,000 is on the way this week.

"I'm extremely worried about the current situation in the United States," Nappi said Friday. "America will not survive the way it is if we let President Bush continue."

Nappi, who is particularly concerned about the environment and the war in Iraq, often writes to local papers and emails friends and relatives about her views.

"If I could, I would go work against him, but I can't," she said. "The only thing I can do is give money."

Across the aisle, the only donation to Bush came from Office of Government Affairs official Christopher Carter, a former Republican legislative assistant.

Carter, like several professors, declined to comment, saying, "The political donations that I give are a personal decision of my own, and I separate that from my professional actions."

In addition to donations made directly to the candidates, the Democratic National Committee has raised $53,351 from University donors for the 2004 election cycle, while the Republican National Committee has received only $500. Liberal political action committees such as
Moveon.org have raked in thousands more from University affiliates.

Kerry and Bush stopped accepting private donations after their respective nominating conventions because they both elected to take federal matching funds.

Liberal academia?

The University's results were in step with those of Yale and Harvard, both of which had 95 percent of donations going to Kerry. Harvard employees donated $213,045 to Kerry, representing the largest amount given by the employees of any institution or company, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

To computer science professor Andrew Appel, who has given $4,000 to Kerry this year, the imbalance is not unexpected.

"Does it surprise me that smart people should be supporting Kerry?" Appel said. "No."

But Appel, who is teaching a freshman seminar this fall titled "Election Machinery," emphasized that personal political preferences should not affect what goes on in the classroom.

"I do my best to make class be scholarship and learning, and not influenced by partisan ideas," he said.

Some conservative students wonder, however, whether professors' opinions might filter through in more subtle ways such as the topics they choose to discuss.

"That a professor gives to Kerry over President Bush does not mean they're going to be slanted or biased," said Evan Baehr '05, president of the College Republicans. "But it should lead you to start asking questions."

In March, Baehr started a Princeton chapter of Students for Academic Freedom, a group dedicated to increasing conservative thought in academia.

Who gives and who gets

Through June, University employees have donated a total of $170,494 to candidates and political action committees. Of that, only $13,600 has gone to Republican causes, primarily Congressional candidates such as Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).

Not surprisingly, support has been strong for Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a former physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Holt has received $23,550 from University employees during the election cycle.

The largest donors recorded by the FEC were former Wilson School visiting professor Barbara Blumenthal and anthropology professor Alan Mann, each giving $25,000 to the DNC.

All other contributions were for $2,000 or less, though some professors were repeat donors. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, individuals are limited to giving $2,000 to any candidate, $25,000 to a political party and $5,000 to a political action committee per year.

The law was designed to eliminate the role of soft money in elections, but critics argue the money is simply being redirected to so-called 527 organizations – independent nonprofits that can accept unlimited donations.

Those contributions are not monitored or recorded by the FEC, but a few wealthy political activists are getting attention for the large checks they're writing.

Topping that list is University trustee and billionaire philanthropist Peter Lewis '55. Lewis and close friend George Soros have each pledged $10 million to America Coming Together, a 527 dedicated to defeating Bush through get-out-the-vote efforts in swing states such as Lewis' native Ohio.

Lewis, the former chairman of Progressive, Inc., has already donated more than $11 million to other anti-Bush groups, according to the Center for Public Integrity. His current total is $14.3 million, making him the single largest donor for any election cycle.

Lewis is also the University's single greatest contributor. His donations, which total $116 million, have funded the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and the Gehry science library currently under construction.


Melisa Gao writes for the Daily Princetonian.


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