To the general electorate, classifying members of Congress often means naming a party—Democrat, Republican, or Independent.
But elected representatives also ally themselves with a number of smaller, less formal groups. The Congressional Black Caucus has 43 members. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is comprised of 21 Hispanic Democrats. The Blue Dog Coalition has 24 fiscally conservative Democrats.
For Harvard’s Washington lobbying apparatus, the most significant grouping may be the Harvard delegation—the group of congressmen with degrees from the University. With the addition of 14 Harvard alumni elected last Tuesday, the ranks of the crimson congressional contingent grew to 43, a marked increase over the 34 alumni who were members of the original 112th Congress.
Harvard relies on its lobbying efforts for everything from securing federal funding for research to promoting immigration reform. Harvard’s D.C.-based Office of Federal Relations, which coordinates the University’s lobbying efforts, makes an effort to keep members of Congress apprised of University happenings as well as Harvard’s stances on policy issues.
“It’s always useful to get some additional input on issues that matter to the University,” says Congressman John P. S. Sarbanes, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988. “I think the fact that I attended school and have some understanding of what the priorities are and what the efforts are... it’s helpful to hear from people who have that.”
The existence of a Harvard delegation gives the University a special inroad into Capitol Hill, allowing its lobbyists to appeal to a small group of legislators not just as politicians, but as Harvard alumni.
Members of Congress with Harvard degrees say they feel deep ties to their alma mater—something reflected in their interaction with Harvard officials and the University as a whole.
“Our alumni who are in Congress are in many ways like our alumni in other professions in that their time at Harvard was formative to them and their degree from Harvard is a big part of their identity,” says Christine M. Heenan, Harvard vice president of public affairs and communications.
Four congressmen interviewed for this article say they maintain a sentimentality for their time at Harvard and keep in touch with other members of their graduating class.
“For me, being in Boston and being at Harvard was a good experience that I’ve carried a positive feeling about,” says Sarbanes, who returned to Cambridge last week to lecture at the Law School.
Members of Congress who return to campus often receive special attention from Harvard’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications, the department that also oversees Harvard’s lobbying efforts.
“We’ve had everything from members of Congress who are visiting campus with their children say, ‘Can you connect us with the folks from admissions for a tour’ to ‘We’re going to be speaking at the IOP, can our press office interact with yours?’” says Heenan.
Sometimes members of Congress are reluctant to publicize their Harvard connections. “I think most people in elected office hide their affiliation with Harvard because it doesn’t make [them] popular,” says Congressman Jim H. S. Cooper, who graduated from the Law School in 1980. “There’s a certain arrogance associated with Harvard people.”
“Never mention it because it can only hurt you,” he says of how politicians often manage their ties to Harvard.