Money talks: Syracuse University community donates to political campaigns with hopes of advancing issues
Buried under a copy of Science Magazine and Monday’s Post-Standard, Thomas Fondy unearthed the reason he donated $4,000 to congressional candidate Dan Maffei.
He opened the Greenpeace pamphlet on climate change and found the page with pictures of polar bears standing on shrinking icebergs.
“You want to know why I support Dan?” he said, pointing at the pictures. “This is why.”
Maffei’s opponent, incumbent Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.), is a climate change denier, but Maffei has lectured at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and understands science, said Fondy, a biology professor at Syracuse University.
“We need to get people in (Congress) who know science and respect science,” he said.
Fondy was one of several at SU who donated money this election season to further support a candidate and to advance an issue they believe in.
From 2011 to 2012, 75 individuals who identified themselves as SU employees made 170 contributions totaling $82,634 to political campaigns, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
By federal law, campaigns are not required to disclose donations of less than $250.
Both the amount of money donated and the number of contributions is a significant increase from the 2008 election. Four years ago, SU employees made 45 contributions totaling $28,000.
The uptick in donations is in line with national trends, which saw congressional and presidential candidates and their supporters spend $6 billion on the election, up 13 percent from 2008, according to Time magazine.
This year’s contributions from SU employees went to a wide variety of campaigns, spanning 17 candidates from five different states and four political parties, as well as four political organizations.
The School of Architecture was the only SU school/college that did not have employees donate to a political campaign. Professors from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs contributed the most money out of all the schools, with 18 professors donating a total of $20,118.
The next highest contributing school was the College of Law with a total of $13,000 from seven professors, followed by the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Information Studies.
The majority of contributions made by Whitman employees came from the school’s dean, Melvin Stith, who donated $4,950 to President Barack Obama’s campaign and $1,250 to the Democratic National Committee, for a total of $6,200.
Stith, the highest individual donor among SU employees, said he chose to contribute to Obama’s campaign purely for personal reasons.
"I'm a product of the segregated South. I was able to support something I never dreamed I would have an opportunity to support."
Melvin Stith, dean of the Martin J. Whitman School of Management
“I’m a product of the segregated South,” he said. “I was able to support something I never dreamed I would have an opportunity to support.”
Other African-Americans have run for president before, but Obama is the only one who was able to “make his way through the maze” and become a viable candidate, Stith said.
Members of the chancellor’s cabinet also donated to political campaigns, contributing a total of $2,500. Chancellor Nancy Cantor made a $500 donation toward Obama’s campaign.
In general, SU employees contributed significantly more to democratic campaigns, donating $65,734 to 12 different candidates and democratic organizations. Of those candidates, Obama and Maffei received the most money, garnering $41,409 and $15,650, respectively.
Obama received more contributions from SU employees this election than in 2008, when he received a total of $7,500 from 13 employees. In contrast, Maffei received less money this election than during this 2010 congressional campaign, when he raised $21,275 from 24 SU employees.
During her 2010 congressional campaign, Buerkle received only $50 from SU employees. This year, she received no money from SU employees.
But Buerkle wasn’t the only Republican whose campaign received few donations from SU employees. Contributions to Republican candidates were significantly less, with $13,150 going to six different candidates and the Republican National Committee. Of the six candidates, Republican presidential nominee former Gov. Mitt Romney received the second least amount of money, getting only $1,550 from five contributions.
While most of the donations from SU employees went to local or New York state races, a few went to candidates running for office clear across the country.
Steven Brechin, a sociology professor, contributed $250 to Derek Kilmer’s successful run for a congressional seat in Washington state.
Kilmer was one of Brechin’s students when Brechin taught at Princeton University and the two were close, Brechin said in an email. They have stayed in touch over the years and when Kilmer called to ask for a donation, Brechin said he couldn’t refuse.
“During his undergraduate days we would have office conversations about politics. It is heartwarming to see him grow into his political career,” he said. “I predict he will be a future governor of the state of Washington, and maybe more.”
Outside of the two major political parties, an SU employee contributed $250 to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and another donated $1,000 to Ursula Rozum, a Green Party candidate in New York’s 24th Congressional District.
Vincent Lloyd, an assistant professor of religion, donated the $1,000 to Rozum because, he said, her candidacy enhanced debate within the congressional district.
“I think regardless of what the election results were, Ursula’s candidacy made it possible to have a lively conversation about issues that would not have been on the table had Ursula not been running,” he said.
While Rozum received only about eight percent of the vote, Lloyd said he didn’t feel the money was wasted. Rather, the amount of votes she received coupled with the past success of Green Party candidates in the district show that a third-party candidate could be elected in the future, he said.
“I didn’t think that either Maffei or Ann Marie Buerkle were representing the values of many voters in our electoral district,” Lloyd said. “I thought it was important to support a candidate who would broaden the conversation.”
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