Incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) has outraised his Democratic challengers by an average of $1.6 million in the last three election cycles, but Federal Election Commission Filings show that only two Cornell staff and faculty — one of them a registered Democrat — have given large individual contributions to his current campaign.
Contributions from Cornellians make up about eight percent of Tracy Mitrano J.D.’95’s total fundraising for the cycle and less than one percent of Reed’s. Despite a boost in third-quarter performance, where Mitrano outraised Reed for the quarter, the democratic candidate is still trailing Reed’s fundraising totals by over $2 million, and Reed’s $1,293,380 cash on hand as of Sept. 30 was more than Mitrano has raised in all.
Publicly available FEC data only includes contributions from individuals over $200 and includes some former University employees who have not updated employment information.
The disparity has held true for the past two elections for the House seat in New York’s 23rd District as well. Democratic candidate John Plumb raised just over half as much as Reed’s total in 2016, but 18 times more from Cornell employees. In 2014, Democrat Martha Robertson ’75 accumulated $164,000 from University employees, while Reed received $200 from a single donor.
In a statement emailed to The Sun, Mitrano expressed her gratitude for the support of Cornellians.
“As my alma mater and my former employer, the University means a lot to me, and I’m thankful for the friends and colleagues who have supported my candidacy. I’m proud to have the backing of the Cornell community, just as I am proud to have the backing of people across this district,” Mitrano said.
Mitrano served as Cornell’s director of information technology policy from 2001 to 2014, and has made her cybersecurity expertise part of her campaign message.
Mitrano also criticized Reed for accepting corporate PAC money and campaign dollars from groups outside of the district. According to opensecrets.org, 54.5 percent of Reed’s campaign contributions are from PACs, compared to 1.62 percent for Mitrano. Mr. Reed’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Joanne Florino ’75, a former project director for the Atlantic Philanthropies Archives Project, and current Ithaca resident, is one of only two current or former employees of Cornell to donate to Reed this election cycle, giving $3,500 in total. Florino is a registered Democrat, and also gave $50 to Mitrano.
The fact that only two employees donated to Reed is not an accurate categorization of Cornell faculty, Florino said in an interview with The Sun.
“I know faculty members at Cornell who would probably describe themselves as center right but would not wish to be public about it,” she said.
Florino has worked personally with both candidates. She previously served on the board of The Sun with Mitrano in 2012 and regularly works on tax policy for charitable organizations with Reed in her role as Vice President of Philanthropic Services at The Philanthropy Roundtable.
Florino said that she “respect[s] Tracy very highly,” but believes Reed’s economic agenda will benefit the district.
“I support Tom because I think that the biggest issue in this district is jobs. We don’t see it in Ithaca because we’re the exception in his district in terms of vitality. A lot of that results from the University, and the people that the university attracts to this community,” Florino said.
Prof. Emeritus Brian Chabot, ecology and evolutionary biology, donated to Mitrano’s campaign. He said he did not know Mitrano during her time at Cornell but believes her cybersecurity expertise would be a benefit in the capital.
“It would be very helpful to have somebody in Congress who understands … how to improve our cyberdefenses, so that part is a factor,” Chabot told The Sun. “Whether she got that from Cornell or any of the other institutions that she’s been at is beside the point to me.”
A 2015 investigation by The Sun found that 97 percent of political givings from professors went to Democrats, echoing similar findings at other universities like Lehigh and Harvard, which reported 82 and 84 percent, respectively.
Prof. Mary Beth Norton, history, was the fifth largest Democratic donor among Cornell professors in 2015, The Sun previously reported. Norton, who called Mitrano “a long-time personal friend,” is among the top 10 Cornell-employed donors to Mitrano’s campaign, according to FEC filings.
In an interview with The Sun, Norton said the disparity between Reed’s and Mitrano’s contributions from Cornellians “would not surprise me at all,” and noted that Mitrano is “well-known on the Cornell campus,” given her status as an alumna and former faculty.
Chabot also said that while many Cornell staff and professors give to Democrats, they make an effort to “maintain a distinction” between times when they are representing the University and their private life.
“I think all of us who are contributing to the Democrats, and I’m not the only one, try not to let those views get into anything that we’re doing on the campus,” Chabot said. “There is no need for me to bring my political views at all into the classroom. My interest in environmental issues does affect my political views of course.”