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Academia has '08 cash clout

Education field donating more in presidential race

Professors and others in the education field have given more to federal candidates running in 2008 than those who work in the oil, pharmaceutical, and computer industries -- a sign of how academia has become a much bigger player in the political cash sweepstakes.

Of the more than $7 million that academics donated in the first half of this year, more than $4.1 million went to presidential campaigns, particularly Barack Obama's, according to a study released this month by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The Illinois senator brought in almost $1.5 million, while Hillary Clinton received nearly $940,000.

Republican Mitt Romney was in third place, with about $448,000, but overall, three-quarters of contributions went to Democrats.

Donors from Harvard University top the list, with nearly $280,000 in contributions from individuals in the first half of the year. More than 80 percent of the donations went to Democrats, and about 40 percent to Obama, who graduated from Harvard Law School.

Law school luminaries Laurence Tribe, Charles Ogletree, and Lani Guinier have each lavished the maximum primary donation of $2,300 on Obama, while their colleague Alan Dershowitz gave $1,000 to Clinton.

When donations from seven other Boston-area universities and colleges, plus the University of Massachusetts system, are added, individuals gave about $462,000 in the first half of the year, with 86 percent going to Democrats, according to an analysis provided to the Globe yesterday.

The clout of academic money in presidential and congressional races has grown dramatically in recent years, according to the center's analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

Education ranked 34th among industries in terms of employee contributions in 1996 with a total of about $8.8 million, but nearly doubled to $16.5 million in the 2000 election and more than doubled again to $37 million in 2004, when it ranked eighth among all industries.

For the 2008 campaign so far, education ranks 14th. Among the industries whose employees have given more are law, medicine, Wall Street, and real estate.

Analysts say the donations in this presidential election cycle are largely due to widespread opposition to the Bush administration and the Iraq war.

"It has really been surprising to us the extent to which the education industry has started kicking into presidential politics," said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "It's not a group you would normally think would have a lot of money to kick around $1,000 contributions. The motivation seems to be that they want a Democrat in the White House, and they want to keep a Democratic Congress."

Professors have become more aware in recent years of the crucial role money plays in politics, said Theda Skocpol, a political scientist and dean of Harvard's graduate school of arts and sciences. Meanwhile, candidates, particularly Democrats, have made much greater efforts, particularly online, to reach out for smaller donations, she added.

While many academics are modestly paid, those with tenure at the top private institutions often earn six-figure salaries, and those in business, medical, and law schools are especially well compensated. A university like Harvard also includes professors and fellows who do not fit the usual Ivory Tower mold, having made fortunes elsewhere or spent part of their careers in politics.

At Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, for instance, professor Stephen Goldsmith is the former mayor of Indianapolis and a former policy adviser to President Bush. He has already given $4,600 -- the maximum allowed for the primary and general election -- to Republican Rudy Giuliani. Professor Graham Allison, who gave $1,000 to Obama this year and $2,000 to Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut in December, was an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

Clinton is leading the Democratic presidential field in national polls, but Obama polls particularly well among educated, affluent voters. At Harvard, where he graduated from law school in 1991, he also benefits from being a recent alumnus who has maintained friendships with several prominent professors.

Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969. Of the $6,900 its staff have donated this year, $4,400 went to the New York senator.

Dershowitz has known her since she was a law student at Yale University and socializes with her and former president Bill Clinton. He has also been helping sell tickets for a Clinton fund-raiser on Martha's Vineyard this weekend.

Friendships aside, Dershowitz said he and many of his colleagues are focused on choosing the most electable Democrat, fueled by outrage at the Bush administration.

"At dinner tables we have tactical arguments. Is America more racist or more sexist?" Dershowitz said, referring to the fact that Obama is black and Clinton is a woman and his friends are fearful that American voters are not ready to elect either a minority or woman as president.

His law school colleague Ogletree has been a mentor to Obama since the candidate was in law school, and is advising the campaign. "To paraphrase a trite phase, to know him is to love him," Ogletree said. "He is a sleeping giant."

A spokesman for Clinton declined to comment, while a spokesman for Obama said the campaign is pleased to have so much help and enthusiasm from academia.

The education industry includes some primary and secondary school teachers but not many, because most teachers make their political contributions through union political action committees, which are counted separately, Ritsch said.

It also includes non-faculty administrators and staff, but professors predominate. As nonprofits, universities are not allowed to make political contributions. The center also counts donations from family members without other jobs -- homemaker spouses and children -- because they often donate as proxies for the breadwinner.

The data include contributions of more than $200 to candidates for president, the US Senate, and US House, as well as parties and committees involved in national politics. The study could provide fresh ammunition to conservatives who rail about liberal bias in the academy.

"Academia today is much more like a church with a creed than an open marketplace of ideas," said Stephen Balch, president of the conservative National Association of Scholars.

Liberal-leaning professors respond that most of their colleagues go out of their way to teach all sides of an issue. Staying out of politics would send the wrong message to students, Skocpol said. "To make a political judgment and a choice is not bias," she said. "It is citizenship, and that is a big difference."

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@