Professors give advice, funds to 2008 campaigns

Nathalie Tadena

With slightly more than five months until the presidential election, Northwestern students aren’t the only people on campus involved with campaigns.

At the School of Law, professors Steven Calabresi and John McGinnis serve on Sen. John McCain’s Justice Advisory Committee.

“We believe that the nomination of John McCain is the best option to preserve the ongoing restoration of constitutional government,” Calabresi and McGinnis wrote in a February editorial in The Wall Street Journal, arguing that McCain would appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

McGinnis said he does not anticipate getting a job in the administration if McCain, R-Ariz., is elected president.

“That’s totally up to Senator McCain,” McGinnis said. “I’m supporting him because I want him to become president, not because of any expectation of going into his administration.”

Other law professors involved in campaigns include David Scheffer, a former ambassador who endorsed Sen. Barack Obama in December, and Howard Learner, one of Obama’s top advisers on environmental issues.

Faculty members have also shown their support for candidates through monetary contributions.

NU, as a nonprofit organization, cannot form political action committees that support or oppose political candidates, but individual faculty members can make donations in their own names.

The majority of NU faculty and staff donations went toward Obama’s campaign; the candidate has received $95,681 in contributions from NU, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During the 2006 Senate race, NU was Obama’s fifth-highest campaign contributor, receiving more than $72,000 from NU faculty and staff.

Comparatively, donors listing NU as their employer have donated $8,950 to McCain and $12,200 to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“I contributed to Hillary’s campaign because I believe in her – in terms of her motivations, her compassion, her wisdom and her experience – and I think she is the better candidate,” wrote Kellogg Prof. Angela Lee, who has donated the federal limit of $2,300 to Clinton, in an e-mail.

Across the country, educators have contributed more than $15 million to the 2008 presidential campaign, surpassing donations from the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Colleges and universities can’t contribute themselves because they’re nonprofit organizations, but that makes the amount of money coming out of higher education even more remarkable because it’s coming entirely from individuals and their family members,” said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

More than 80 percent of that money has gone to Democrats, according to the center. So far, Obama, D-Ill., has amassed more than $7 million in donations from educators. Clinton has received more than $4 million, and McCain close to $700,000.

Faculty members tend to be better paid at larger universities, and many top-tier schools are located in large cities where there are heavy fundraising efforts, Ritsch said.

In Chicago, where Obama began his political career as a community organizer, the senator has even more of an edge.

“I live in the South Side of Chicago,” said NU Sociology Prof. Mary Pattillo. “Obama has been my state senator. He is now my U.S. senator, and it is really an exciting prospect to have someone who has represented me for so long to now be the president of the United States.”

It’s unsurprising that university faculty members tend to lean left politically, said Pattillo, who has donated $1,550 to Obama’s campaign.

“For those of us in the social sciences, when you study inequality and politics you learn some of the more structural reasons for those inequalities, and you recognize that a small government will not solve the issues we confront,” she said. “Because Republicans very much emphasize small government, among other things, we tend to lean towards a more progressive approach to solving important problems.”

Law Prof. Dawn Clark Netsch, who said she is personally acquainted with Obama, has donated to his campaign and housed several Obama volunteers for free during the primary.

“It’s pretty obvious what my political standing is,” said Netsch, who has given more than $2,000 to Obama. “I don’t bring it up in class, but I’ve been in public office for 20-some years. The students all know my political beliefs.”

Pattillo said she tries not to discuss her political preferences in her classes but it is “almost impossible right now during the political season.”

“When we’re not in the middle of a very heated campaign, it’s much easier,” she said. “But I’m teaching again in the fall during the general election and I can’t imagine not being able to mention politics.”

Netsch, who served as the state comptroller and was the democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1994, said her political beliefs do not affect her classes.

“I’ve been politically involved all my life, my school knows that and they live with it,” she said. “I can’t think of any group of people who is more concerned about who’s running our city, states and country than people in the law profession or in academia in general.”

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