Donation Data Shows 5C Trustee Political Leanings
Trustees from the five Claremont Colleges collectively donated a little under $2.5 million to federal political causes—parties, candidates, and political action committees (PACs)—between 2007 and 2014, according to a TSL analysis of data collected by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The data showed that nearly 75 percent of all donations went to Republican candidates and allied PACs, while Democrats received 21 percent of the donation funds. The remainder went to PACs with no clear political affiliation.
Claremont McKenna College’s Board of Trustees donated about $1.1 million—more than any other board at the 5Cs—with 90 percent of their donations going directly to the GOP. Trustees Robert A. Day, Henry R. Kravis and George R. Roberts, all of whom have major academic buildings and programs named after them, accounted for 75 percent of all CMC trustee donations. All three donated entirely or almost entirely in favor of the Republican Party.
Pomona trustees donated approximately $873,000, the second highest amount among the Claremont Colleges, with 86 percent going to Republicans and 10 percent to Democrats. Trustee Andrew F. Barth donated more than all other 36 Pomona trustees combined, with a total of $457,800. The vast majority of Barth’s donations went towards the GOP.
“Many alumni and supporters of Pomona College are politically and civically engaged, as we saw recently with the election of Brian Schatz [PO] '94 as U.S. Senator from Hawaii,” wrote Marylou Ferry, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Pomona College, in an email to TSL.
Trustees at Pitzer came in third place with donations of about $288,000. Scripps placed fourth with just over $147,000, followed by HMC at $90,987. The majority of the donations at each of these schools went to the Democrats.
Scripps Associated Students (SAS) President Alex Frumkin SC '15 was surprised by the relatively low political donations from Scripps trustees. However, in her work on various committees within the Board, Frumkin feels that trustees are in an especially good place to make positive contributions to the school.
"I think that for the most part, the Board Members really are committed to the mission and the vision of the school," Frumkin said.
Six trustees donated more than $100,000 a piece. Pitzer’s Susan Pritkzer—the sole woman on the shortlist—was the only donor who gave primarily to the Democratic Party. The top three contributors—Barth, Day and Kravis—made up 45 percent of all 5C trustee donations. All three donated entirely or almost entirely in favor of the GOP.
But even though Republicans pocketed the overwhelming majority of the trustees’ contributions, donors’ partisan preferences tell a different story: As a whole, there were nearly twice as many 5C trustees that contributed mostly to the Democratic Party. Only at CMC did a 76 percent majority of donating trustees give primarily to Republican causes.
According to data collected by CMC government professor emeritus Ward Elliot, the donation history of individual donors better reflects the student body’s political leaning. The report—which was released last fall—found that around 85 percent of Claremont undergraduates generally support the Democratic Party (due to incomplete data, HMC is excluded from this analysis), 20 percentage points higher than the percentage of 5C trustees that financially support Democratic causes.
By contrast, only 21 percent of the total sum of all 5C political donations went towards the Democrats.
According to Ward's data, CMC has the widest student-trustee political disparity, with 71 percent of students preferring the Democratic Party compared to only 24 percent of its donating trustees.
“I don’t think a school administration is necessarily political, but CMC has a reputation of being a somewhat conservative school, so it’s not surprising that it’s linked with highly-conservative trustees,” said Michael Irvine CM ’16, social media director for the Democrats at the Claremont Colleges.
Pitzer had the most Democratic donations of the 5Cs. More than 75 percent of its trustees’ political contributions went towards the Democratic Party, and 83 percent of donating trustees contributed mostly to liberal candidates and causes. Pitzer also had the highest percentage of trustees who have donated to political causes since 2007, with 62 percent making contributions.
When asked whether the Board's political leanings affected its vote to divest from fossil fuel funds in April of last year, Ben Levine PZ ’14—who was part of the college's task force served with considering the effects of divestment—thinks it had little to no effect.
"Regardless of political affiliation, Pitzer's Board went [further] than any of other 5Cs towards hearing a legitimate case for divestment," he said. "[The Board] cares deeply about the environment and they view environmental sustainability as a core tenet of Pitzer's values. I think that their decision on divestment reflects that commitment."
Students can look up data for specific trustees and other individuals on OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Julia Thomas, Diane Lee, and Sean Gunther contributed reporting.
This article was updated Feb. 7. It originally indicated that the data were collected by the Center for Responsible Politics.