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Kennedy School Faculty Donated Overwhelmingly to Democrats Ahead of 2018 Midterms

Harvard Kennedy School
Harvard Kennedy School By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Alexandra A. Chaidez, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Kennedy School faculty, instructors, and research associates donated overwhelmingly to Democratic candidates, political action committees, and causes in both the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Nearly 92 percent of all political donations from HKS affiliates in 2016 and 2018 went to Democrats. Roughly 4.3 percent of the money donated went to Republicans while less than 1 percent to Independent candidates. The rest of the contributions — about 3.6 percent — went to non-profits or nonpartisan groups.

This election cycle, though, saw a slight decrease in the amount of money faculty donated to both major parties. HKS faculty donated $84,030 to Democratic candidates and organizations in 2016, compared to the $79,670 it gave to Democrats in 2018. The trend held true for Republican candidates, too. School affiliates donated $1,700 less to Republican candidates and organizations in 2018 as compared to 2016.

The data — which the Center for Responsive Politics compiled at The Crimson’s request — accounted only for individuals who listed the Kennedy School as their employer at the time of their donation. The center took its information from publicly available Federal Election Commission filings.

Kennedy School affiliates’ preference for Democratic candidates fits the recent national trend in which Democrats are out-fundraising their Republican opponents. According to the Washington Post, Democratic candidates had raised more money than their Republican opponents in 53 of the 73 most competitive congressional races as of Oct. 2018.

The FEC data shows that HKS faculty contributed less frequently to individual candidates or political parties in the 2018 election cycle than they did in the 2016 cycle. This time around, Kennedy School professors instead gave more money to nonprofits and political action committees.

In 2016, 110 donations totaling more than $88,000 went to candidates or party funds. In 2018, 94 donations — $83,170 dollars in total — went to candidates or parties.

Roughly 24 donations in 2018 went to political action committees, compared to 2 donations in 2016. The 2018 election cycle also saw a $5,500 increase in the amount given to nonpartisan PACs or nonprofits.

Across both election cycles, most of the donations came from a relatively small group of HKS professors, researchers, and center associates. Twenty HKS affiliates contributed to political organizations or candidates in 2016, while 17 did the same in 2018.

Kennedy School professors’ liberal bent matches that of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard’s flagship faculty.

FAS professors have donated to Democrats by a wide margin since 2015, according to a Crimson analysis of FEC filings. A 2018 Crimson survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences later showed that 38.3 percent of respondents identify as “very liberal” and 44.9 percent identify as “liberal.”

Kennedy School Professor Emeritus Christopher S. Jencks, who donated $59,650 to Democrats and $500 to Independents between 2016 and 2018, said he gave “buckets of money” to the Democrats — but not because he “loves” the party. He shelled out because he strongly disapproves of Republicans and President Donald Trump, Jencks said in an interview.

“That's not particularly atypical for people who are contributing to the Republican party or the Democratic party,” Jencks said. “They are responding to what Trump and to what the Republican party has become, a rubber stamp for Trump.”

Ronald L. Heifetz, the co-founder of the HKS Center for Public Leadership, said the Kennedy School’s commitment to “truth” — which he said some fear Trump has imperiled — may have spurred donations to Democratic candidates.

“There is a deep commitment to finding out the truth,” Heifetz said. “The current politics that President Trump represents is a politics that's capitalizing on the erosion of trust in the society that has gone on for decades.”

Richard E. Cavanaugh, an adjunct HKS lecturer in public policy, said he chose to donate to candidates whom he knows “personally.” Cavanaugh donated $3,000 to Democratic candidates between the 2016 and 2018 elections, according to FEC filings.

Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in an emailed statement that HKS professors are allowed to participate in politics so long as they keep their beliefs separate from their research and teaching.

“The Kennedy School does not favor any political party or endorse political candidates,” Elmendorf wrote. “However, members of the Kennedy School community, including faculty, are free to participate in the political process and exercise their rights as citizens as long as they distinguish those personal activities from their activities at the School.”

Jencks said students in his classes “have no doubt” about his political leanings. But he added he “tried desperately hard not to impose them on other people.”

“I like the theology on the left a little better than theology on the right, but I keep trying to push my students,” Jencks said. “Let's look at evidence first before you choose a side.”

— Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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PoliticsHarvard Kennedy SchoolFacultyFront Middle Feature2018 Election