The Ivy League sits in deepest coastal blue, far from the battleground states that could determine which party controls the Senate next year, but that doesn’t mean the academics are sitting it out.
Faculty and staff at the eight elite universities have contributed more than $190,000 to campaigns of Democrats in eight races rated as toss-ups by professional oddsmakers, according to records. But only one Republican had been blessed by the Ivies as of late last month — Sen. Ted Cruz, whose bid for re-election in Texas managed to attract $750 from one Yale University librarian.
That’s a ratio of more than 250-to-1, even higher than the 90-1 Democratic lean of the Ivies during President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.
The Ivy League may be the most extreme, but it is far from alone among higher education in preferring Democrats.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Mr. Cruz’s Democratic opponent, has raked in nearly $130,000 from the University of Texas at Austin alone — putting the school second on his list of contributors’ employers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets database.
As Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign finance disclosures make clear, college money has become a significant player for Democratic political fundraising. The totals are steadily rising in the database as the election nears. Figures are from Oct. 3 reports.
Half of Mr. O’Rourke’s top 10 contributors’ employers are colleges, records show, with those at Rice University, Stanford University, the University of California and Harvard University joining the University of Texas. Mr. Cruz’s best showing on campus was raising $22,339 from employees at UT-Austin, making them his 39th-largest contributing group.
The dynamic is at play in nine of the most hotly contested Senate races — Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas — where the ratio of college and university giving to Democrats versus Republicans averages about 10-1 and in some cases exceeds 90-1.
“I don’t think it’s a healthy situation, this radical disparity between liberal and conservative on these campuses,” said Peter Wood, president of the right-leaning National Association of Scholars.
The campaign contributions are extensions of party affiliation among university faculties, which Mr. Wood noted has shown disparity so pronounced that no Republicans were found in various fields at some schools.
“Writing a check is a step toward deeper activism,” he said. “When it becomes so lopsided, it can compromise public trust in universities, especially the public universities where you would think there might be some rough approximation of what we see in the population, and yet there’s no sign of that.”
The enormous advantage for Democratic candidates suggests that while races are too close to predict among the states’ general populations, the matter has already been decided on campus. At the flagship public universities in those toss-up states, contributions from employees have gone to Democratic Senate candidates over Republicans by an average of 22-to-1, records show.
All of the contributions are legal, and the American Association of University Professors’ guidelines make no mention of such political activity in its Redbook section on professors and political activity.
Although the association urges members to seek a leave of absence should they engage in “extensive campaigning for elective office,” academic freedom demands “they should be free to engage in political activities so far as they are able to do so consistently with their obligations as teachers and scholars.”
Many of them believe they are able.
In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill has taken in more than $830,000 on the college circuit, and three schools appear in her top 20 list of contributors’ employers in Open Secrets’ data.
Ms. McCaskill lists contributions from 36 institutions, but more than one-third of her total haul from those sources — $336,989 — came from employees at Washington University in St. Louis. In her congressional career, Washington University employees have given Ms. McCaskill nearly a half-million dollars, putting them behind only Emily’s List among her top contributors. Another quarter-million dollars this year has come from the state’s flagship campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, a school rocked by left-wing unrest in 2015.
Josh Hawley, her Republican opponent, has collected just $6,950 from Washington University employees and $8,150 from the University of Missouri, part of nearly $20,000 from college employees. Still, that low total puts him near the top of Republican recipients of college cash in the close Senate battlegrounds.
In Texas, Mr. O’Rourke’s Ivy League haul of nearly $30,000 trails only Ms. McCaskill’s in tight elections. Harvard is by far his biggest contributor, accounting for more than $20,000, records show.
Indeed, Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign has raked in so much university employee money that half of his top 10 contributors are higher education institutions, according to OpenSecrets.
His top 100 contributors include Texas A&M and the University of Houston, in addition to the much larger sums he has raised from employees at Stanford, the University of California and Harvard. Colleges from a dozen other states and the District of Columbia also have chipped in.
All told, Mr. O’Rourke’s haul from higher education employees exceeds a quarter-million dollars, more than 10 times the amount Mr. Cruz has raised from similar sources, records show.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat in another tight race, counts Indiana and Purdue university employees among his 10 biggest contributors and in college money has outraised his Republican opponent, businessman and former state representative Mike Braun, by a margin of more than 25-to-1.
Joe for Indiana press secretary Kate Oehl said the senator has worked on college employees’ issues.
“Faculty and staff from colleges and universities in Indiana and across the country contribute to Joe’s campaign as private citizens because they know that Joe will fight for institutions of higher education and students to ensure they can have a quality, affordable education,” she said.
Republican candidates said they are not surprised that academics — particularly those from out of state — are sending support to their favorite Democrats in races such as Nevada, where Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen has two colleges among her top 10 contributors, while Republican Sen. Dean Heller doesn’t have any in his top 100.
“Jacky Rosen’s campaign has been completely created and propped up by out-of-state liberals,” said Heller campaign spokesman Keith Schipper. “She is bought and paid for, and this is just another example of the progressive elite trying to buy a U.S. Senate seat in Nevada.”
Mr. Schipper’s lament is reflected in the contributions from colleges and universities.
Among nearly 50 universities that The Washington Times examined, the employee donation breakdown was 86 percent to Democrats and 7 percent to Republicans.
That figure is more lopsided than it appears because many of the schools with closer averages gave far less money.
Wake Forest University employees were the most balanced group that The Times reviewed, breaking down between Democrats and Republicans by a 51-48 margin. But employees gave less than $90,000, making it a far less significant player than the University of California’s $3.3 million or Harvard’s $1.5 million.
Meanwhile, some schools are pitching a shutout when it comes to giving to Republicans. University of Chicago employees gave more than $200,000 this election cycle — but none of it to Republicans, according to Open Secrets data.
• James Varney can be reached at email@example.com.
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