Claremont trustees have donated more than $7 million to political causes since 2015, with CMC leading the way

Editor’s note: All data used by TSL was obtained from the Federal Election Commission database of individual contributions. Data unable to be verified with state, full names, zip code and/or employer were not included in our analysis, so some donation totals may be lower than actual donations. TSL divided donations into three categories: Republican, Democrat and third party candidates/unaffiliated PACs. 

Members of the 5Cs’ boards of trustees have donated more than $7.3 million to political candidates and committees since 2015, a TSL analysis of Federal Election Commission data found.

TSL analyzed political donations from the trustees of each of the 5Cs since January 2015 and found that Claremont McKenna College’s trustees far surpassed those of the other 5Cs in total amount donated, and comprised the highest percentage of donations to Republican political action committees (PACs) and candidates.

Of all the money donated by CMC trustees, 85 percent — about $4.6 million — went to Republican PACs and candidates, while only 8 percent went to Democratic PACs and candidates.

“The GOP tilt of the CMC contributions is consistent with the college’s image, even though today’s students are heavily Democratic,” CMC government professor John Pitney said in an email to TSL. 

CMC’s trustees were also the most likely to make donations — nearly three in four trustees did so. Pitzer College’s trustees were also active, with about two of every three donating.

Boards of trustees across the 5Cs range from 31 to 43 trustees, who are granted extensive oversight of the colleges’ programming and administration. They appoint and supervise the president, review the budget, define the college’s mission and approve academic programs, according to spokespeople from the colleges.

As 5C students pressure administrations to enact reforms in line with a changing political climate — including fossil fuel divestment, aggressive emissions reductions, increased protections for immigrant students and broad shifts in budget priorities — trustees’ political leanings may offer insight into how they approach decisions on their respective boards.

At each school, at least two-thirds of trustees who donated made contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. And Scripps College’s trustees donated exclusively to Democrats and unaffiliated PACs. 

Pitzer’s trustees, like CMC’s, were friendly to both parties. Almost half of Pitzer trustees who donated made contributions to Republicans, and two-thirds contributed to Democrats.

Those schools’ trustees were most likely to cross the aisle: 36 percent who donated from CMC and 19 percent donating from Pitzer gave to members and PACs of both parties. 

“On the Pitzer campus, Republicans are rarer than snowstorms in Phoenix.” – CMC professor John Pitney

CMC trustees have donated a total of nearly $5.5 million since 2015, TSL found.

The school’s donations were dominated by billionaires Robert Day CM ’65, chairman and president of the W. M. Keck Foundation and the namesake of CMC’s Robert Day School of Economics and Finance, and Henry Kravis CM ’67, namesake of the Kravis Center.

Nearly half of CMC trustees’ donations came solely from Day, who gave more than $2.6 million. His largest single donation was $1 million to Right to Rise, a Republican PAC affiliated with 2016 presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Others also gave massive amounts of money: 75 percent of CMC donations came from just six trustees.

Kravis and Roberts, as well as Kenneth Valach CM ’82 — another CMC trustee who mainly donated to Republicans — also donated to Joe Crowley, a former high-ranking Democratic member of Congress from New York who lost to progressive underdog Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. 

Eight of CMC’s trustees donated to the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock CM ’88, which ended Monday.

Aside from his candidate and PAC donations, Kravis gave $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, according to Forbes. Trump considered nominating Kravis as his Treasury secretary, according to The New York Post. Inauguration donations are not included in the FEC database.

CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby declined to comment on behalf of CMC’s trustees. 

Pitzer College’s trustees donated the second-highest amount — a total of at least $588,387 since 2015.

Pitzer trustee Michael Weinholtz, co-founder of CHG Healthcare Services and Democratic candidate for governor of Utah in 2016, donated the most of any Pitzer trustee — more than $380,000 to Democratic PACs and candidates since 2015. 

Craig Ponzio, an art collector and philanthropist, donated the most of the Pitzer trustees to Republican PACs and candidates, more than $45,000 in total.

Weinholtz and Ponzio did not respond to requests for comment. 

Pitney said he was surprised that such a “large share” — 20 percent — of the Pitzer trustees’ donations went to Republican candidates and PACs. 

“On the Pitzer campus, Republicans are rarer than snowstorms in Phoenix,” he said.

Pitzer trustee Robert Fairbairn recently came under fire from students for his involvement with an investment management company owning stock in a private detention facility operator. Fairbairn is the vice chairman of the company, BlackRock, and donated a total of $10,000 to two PACs with which it’s associated.

Fairbairn did not respond to a request for comment.

Harvey Mudd College trustees donated about $504,500 total and about 35 percent of trustees donated, the smallest share of any school’s board. Only one of the 15 Mudd donors gave to a Republican candidate.

Nearly 90 percent of donations from Mudd trustees came solely from Ed Zimmerman, a lawyer who represents technology startups, who has given $441,498 to Democrats since 2015. 

Zimmerman did not respond to a request for comment.

Pomona College trustees have donated the least — more than $315,200 since 2015 — and about 44 percent of them have donated. The vast majority of money — about 90 percent — has gone to Democratic candidates and PACs.

For Pomona, Peter Sasaki PO ’91, co-founder of a financial consulting firm, donated the most of any trustee: $135,000 to Democratic PACs and candidates. 

Sasaki said he’s a registered Independent and primarily supports candidates he knows personally, who have bipartisan records and prioritize education and environmental protection. 

“At this moment in time, those candidates happen to be Democrats,” he said via email.

Sasaki said his political contributions do not impact his role as a trustee and that he’s honored to serve Pomona. 

“When possible, I think it is important to make political contributions and I think it is equally important to volunteer time,” he said. “Recently, I have become involved with non-partisan groups that register voters, those that fight voter suppression policies and those that call out politicians who make inaccurate statements.” 

Scripps trustee Gale Picker made up about 63 percent of Scripps’ $409,901 total trustee donations since 2015. Picker’s $257,312 in donations included contributions to federal and congressional Democratic party PACs in 35 states.

Picker did not respond to a request for comment.

School administrations do not monitor their trustees’ donations, according to spokespeople from each of the schools.

Maria Heeter, Liam Chalk, Allison Fitz and Haidee Clauer contributed reporting.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Harvey Mudd trustees donated the least total amount of money. It was Pomona trustees who donated the least. TSL regrets this error.
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