Faculty, staff donations to midterm election campaigns at 10-year low

GW students may be considered the most politically active in the nation, but employees donated less to political campaigns and parties this year than in any other midterm election cycle in the past decade.

Senate and House candidates, political parties and political action committees have collected at least $60,000 from members of the GW community this season, about 19 percent less than the previous midterm election cycle in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Georgetown University faculty and staff donated about $142,000 this cycle. Members of the American University community donated $36,000, while Catholic University employees gave $4,525 to PACs, parties and campaigns.

Bill Hughes Jr., a Democrat who is challenging an incumbent in a race for New Jersey’s 2nd District seat, has collected the largest amount from GW employees. His campaign has brought in $7,500, with one donation from a University researcher totaling $2,500.

Many individual donations are going to Mark Warner, an alumnus who is running for re-election as a Democratic senator for Virginia. Warner has collected $6,700 from individuals and political action committees connected to GW, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. At least six of those donations came from GW faculty members like Sherrill Wells, a history professor who donated $400 to Warner’s campaign in 2013.

Wells said she supports Warner because of his efforts to reach “across the aisle” and tackle college debt.

“He’s a moderate and he’s known for coming up with pragmatic solutions to problems. That to me matters a great deal, and the current Congress is not doing that,” she said.

Wells said she doesn’t know Warner personally, and his ties to the University didn’t play into her decision to contribute to his campaign.

“I’m delighted he’s from GW, but that would not have determined my vote,” she said. “I love GW and GW students, but universities don’t determine political beliefs.”

Other candidates, like incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., have received donations from at least one University professor. Gregory Lebel, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Political Management, has donated to Shaheen’s campaign at least eight times, giving a total of $1,400.

Lebel said his donations were personal: He worked with Shaheen 30 years ago when they tried to help former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart earn the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I consider her a friend,” he said. “I’ve continued to support her and do some work for her.”

Neither University President Steven Knapp nor former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg have donated to a campaign.

Justin Holmes, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said donations are down from the past few election cycles, when candidates such as President Barack Obama used tactics like accepting donations via text message to increase giving. GW professors donated $148,139 to Obama in the 2012 election, according to data from the Sunlight Foundation.

While midterm elections usually see fewer donations than during presidential election years, lagging donations this cycle could also come from a lack of faith in the “political process,” Holmes said.

“In wake of the government shutdown, people are pretty steamed,” he said. “It’s just kind of an increase in cynicism and disengagement in campaigns.”

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