September 26, 2008

C.U. Profs Donate to Obama Campaign

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In June, presidential nominee Barack Obama opted out of public financing for his presidential campaign, choosing instead to accept private donations. As of yesterday, over $92,000 of Obama’s campaign money came from 143 of Cornell’s professors and administrators; only three chose to give money to John McCain, totaling $1,300.
The private donations of Cornell employees to various political campaigns total over $223,500 since 2004, according to statistics gathered from the Fundrace online database.
Fundrace was created by Eyebeam, a company that finances nonprofit art and creative technologies. The Fundrace search engine provides public information from the Federal Election Commission about the donation habits of any American. According to, the database “makes it easy to search by name or address to see which presidential candidates your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors are contributing to.”
Prof. Ephrahim Garcia, mechanical and aerospace engineering said, “I do believe in limited government and consider myself more Republican than Democrat; although, right now I would call myself Independent … The support I sent Obama was during the primary and was more reflective of the change I am seeking for government than some left wing political view, so common among my colleagues.”
Aside from his academic research, he expressed that his previous career influenced his political view — he worked for the Department of Defense for four years, developing technologies to better equip the armed forces. Garcia, whose parents were both immigrants, said that he believes that American freedoms are precious.
Prof. Brian Wansink, applied economics and management, also changed his political affiliations during the course of his academic career. Most recently, he donated to Mike Huckabee’s campaign.
“For over 20 years, I was a registered Libertarian — when I was at Stanford, Dartmouth, UPenn and at the University of Illinois, I was a registered Libertarian and nearly always voted a straight Libertarian ticket,” Wansink said.
He went on to explain that after moving to New York, he reconsidering his economic vision and registered as a Republican.
“With only two major parties, I can’t believe there’s anyone in academia who believes 100 percent along either of the two party lines,” Wansink said.
For him, the economic implications of the election are more important than issues such as “legalized drugs, abortion, gun control and same-sex marriage.”
Economic issues led him to donate to a Republican candidate’s campaign in 2007. “It’s the critical reason I give to what I think will keep our country most prosperous and most healthy for the most people,” Wansink said.
Prof. James Brenna, nutritional science, donated to a Republican campaign in 2007. As a member of the political minority among Cornell academicians, Brenna said, “While nearly three decades on campus makes me acutely aware of Cornell’s general
political leanings, I’ve never felt like any reasoned position of mine did me harm.”
Participating actively in politics is an obligation of citizenship, according to Prof. Thomas Cleland, psychology. He recently donated to the Obama campaign.
“If citizens don’t participate in government, then we might as well have a king,” Cleland said.
Although he believes that elections should be publicly funded to reduce the influence of money, Cleland admitted that the problem is a complex one: “We would have to overturn a Supreme Court decision in order to make that happen, so we’re stuck with the present system for a while. Given that reality, political participation means time or money, or both,” he said. He explained that he not only donates but writes letters in support of Obama.
Like most of the Ivies, Cornell’s professors lean to the left in terms of donation dollars. Regardless of political perspective, the majority of professors interviewed expressed that participation in the politics of the nation is a privilege of citizenship.