A look into political contributions from athletic department figures

Monday, September 14, 2020 - 9:17pm

Very few Michigan athletics figures have made political donations.

Very few Michigan athletics figures have made political donations. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

As Election Day inches closer, the push to get people to vote intensifies every day. But behind the scenes and well before Nov. 3, individuals from all walks of life assert their political stance in another way: donations.

Any individual can donate an amount of their choosing up to a government-mandated limit either directly to campaigns, to PACs or to Super PACs. This is an individual’s right as a U.S. citizen, so, the University of Michigan does not infringe on that ability, and neither does the athletic department. 

Many athletics personnel donate to political campaigns, and information about their individual donations including amount, donation recipient, name of individual donor and employer are available on the Federal Election Commission website.

“Harbaugh” is the name that immediately jumps off the webpage. The donations coming from Jack, a former Michigan assistant coach, and Jacqueline “Jackie” Harbaugh — Jim and John’s parents —  fill up all but one of the search results under the name. The only other was a $7.00 contribution to ActBlue from James Harbaugh Jr.

Jack and Jackie’s donations weren’t of the same vein as James’. The two donated totals of $450 to Donald J. Trump for President Inc., $400 to the Donald Trump Make America Great Again Committee, $350 to the Republican National Committee and $300 to John James for Senate over the past 16 months.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh hasn’t donated, per the FEC, but his entire team registered to vote last week.

As for current athletic personnel giving contributions, Michigan swim and dive coach Mike Bottom has donated on 15 separate occasions within the past year to Donald Trump and WinRed, a republican PAC. Overall, Bottom gave $1,375 across the same 15 donations, giving $75 each time to Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and $100 for each donation to a PAC or organization that supported him.

In smaller amounts, Michigan men’s gymnastics assistant coach Jordan Gaarenstroom gave $20 to WinRed last December, and Michigan cheerleading coach Pam St. John gave $53.50 across six donations to ActBlue.

The athletic department declined comment for this story.

Past these few, the FEC website produced nothing discernable about other athletic department persons’ donations, including no results found for either Jim Harbaugh or men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard. This doesn’t confirm either of them — or any Michigan athletic department staff — hasn’t donated, just that results do not come up under their name. They could be donating in other ways not identifiable by the individual contribution database, such as donating under the name of an LLC or alias, especially considering the wide-spread recent activism and sufficient wealth Michigan coaches and staff have available to them.

But with just over a month left, a few last minute donations could pop up, giving even greater insight into the political actions of people in Michigan athletics.