University officials donate to presidential campaigns

By Tui Rademaker, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 2, 2012

As candidates campaign for the 2012 presidential election, the University’s Board of Regents and University faculty members have utilized private donations to support their favored politicians.

According to the Federal Election Commission, which both publicly list the names of campaign donors and the amount of money they contribute, officials from the city of Ann Arbor and the University have donated to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and the various campaigns of Republican candidates seeking the GOP nomination.

Ann Arbor residents donated a total of about $323,000 directly to the 2012 presidential campaigns, according to the FEC. University faculty and staff donated about $76,000, while students donated $7,000, which includes residents and non-residents of Ann Arbor.

University Regent Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) will also host a fundraising event on April 18 for Obama at her home in Bingham Farms. With the President himself expected to attend, ticket prices will range from $10,000 to $40,000.

“When asked if I would host the event at my home for President Obama, I agreed because I enthusiastically support our president,” Ilitch said in a statement to the Daily Monday.

Ilitch has not yet donated to a 2012 presidential campaign, but has donated to previous campaigns, including that of President Obama in 2008, Hilary Clinton, former President George W. Bush and Rudy Guliani.

University Regent Olivia Maynard (D–Goodrich) is also among prominent University officials who have donated to the 2012 campaigns, contributing $2,000 to Obama’s re-election efforts. Though Maynard has financially contributed to numerous Democrats in the past, she said her continued support of Obama is based on his sound handling of the economic crisis.

“I believe we were in a depression, not a recession, when he became president, and you don’t get out of those quickly, but we’re beginning to make progress,” Maynard said.

University President Mary Sue Coleman’s husband Kenneth, a former political science faculty associate, was listed as donating a combined total of $400 to the Obama campaign between July 2011 and February 2012. Coleman declined to comment on the contribution when contacted by The Michigan Daily.

Regent Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park) began supporting Romney early in the race, and is listed as donating $1,000 to the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign on May 16, 2011. Though Richner said his main reason for support is his belief that Romney is the most likely candidate to beat Obama in the general election, he also noted that Romney’s Michigan roots and leadership style are attractive attributes.

“I think Governor Romney is our best shot at winning the White House,” Richner said. “I think our economy needs a new direction and new leadership. I think that we do need a change.”

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) was listed as donating $2,500 to Mitt Romney and an additional $5,000 to the Every Republican is Crucial Political Action Committee — an organization dedicated to electing a Republican candidate as president. She did not return requests for comment.

According to the FEC website, donors contributing directly to candidates can only give a maximum of $2,500 to any one candidate in an election cycle. An individual can give up to $5,000 to any one political action committee.

Maynard said it’s important to donate directly to candidates whenever possible. Despite her own donation, she added that she is troubled by the amount of money currently in the campaign process.

“People have to start raising money from the minute they’re elected, and I think that can have a negative consequence on their ability to govern,” Maynard said. “(But) just because I’d prefer public funding for elections, I’m not going to sit on my hands while everybody else is raising dollars … To play in the ballgame you’re going to have to put the money in.”

Walter Mebane, Jr., a professor of political science and statistics, agreed, noting the demand for fundraising from politicians often directs their time away from formulating policies.

“They have to talk about things that they think work at their fundraising ability, which usually is very inflammatory, defensive kind of rhetoric,” Mebane said. “The question is whether you want voters to decide or dollars to decide.”

Richner said contributing money is a necessary exercise of free speech and a way of encouraging involvement in politics. He said he believes that as long as politicians and their campaigns are open about where their money is coming from and how it’s being spent, donating gives individuals a unique way to engage and express their political views.

“I understand the concerns people have about the amount of money in politics, but what is the solution?” Richner said. “The solution of restraining speech is not a good one to me.”

While many college students cannot afford to contribute financially, Richner and Maynard agree that it’s essential for young people to get involved in any way they can.

Maynard recalled the zeal held by University students during the 2008 presidential election, and said she hopes this year will be the same.

“It’s an important part of the democratic process that students engage and support candidates with whom they agree,” Richner said. “Student engagement can shape the views of candidates.”

Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misreported the federal limit on donations to political action committees. It also misidentified the title of Kenneth Coleman, due to an error in the University's directory.