Sen. Barack Obama announced earlier this week that he had raised an earth-shattering $150 million for his presidential campaign in September — the newest record in a fundraising effort that has earned the Democratic hopeful over $600 million over the past two years.
But according to public campaign financing information, the candidate from Illinois’ fundraising dominance has not quite extended to Tufts’ left-leaning campus: Federal Election Commission records show that Tufts faculty and staff members gave more to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in his 2004 presidential bid than they have given to Obama in the current election cycle.
Through August, the most recent records available publicly, Tufts employees had donated $19,473 to the Obama campaign; through August 2004, Kerry had received $27,400 from the same group.
Political Science Professor Kent Portney said the difference could stem from a variety of factors, such as Kerry’s local ties as a Massachusetts politician.
“I suppose that there are probably a fair number of people at Tufts who have some kind of connection to John Kerry because of his proximity to the university,” Portney said.
But he also suggested that the long, drawn-out primary battle betweenObama and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) might have contributed to the decline, with Tufts donors split between the two candidates.
“Maybe in the timeframe you’re looking at, Tufts contributed more heavily to Hillary’s campaign that to Obama’s,” he said. “If you look at since the [Democratic] convention, you might find that that’s changed.”
In the 2008 election cycle, Tufts employees gave a combined $11,500 to Clinton, far more than they gave to any losing primary candidate in the ’04 cycle. Some of those donations were made as late as August, after the Democratic primary race had been by-and-large decided but just before the Democratic National Convention in Denver. September donation information for the ’08 cycle has not yet been added to public federal databases.
If the drawn-out primary race did play a factor at Tufts, it certainly has not been a drag on Obama’s national fundraising numbers, according to Portney.
“It doesn’t seem to have affected him much,” he said. “He’s raised an awful lot of money, set a lot of records. It’s just astounding how much money he’s raised.”
Nationally, Obama entered October with $133.6 million on hand, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had just $46.9 million in the bank. According to Portney, this differential has played a huge factor in the race.
“It’s the most important issue in a campaign,” Portney said. “Right now Obama’s campain is expanding … [and] buying up airtime everywhere. McCain is contracting, focusing on a smaller number of states.”
According to junior Shana Hurley, president of the Tufts Democrats, Obama’s massive fundraising numbers make the difference in Tufts employees’ contributions somewhat shocking.
“I really don’t know,” she said. “I’m just legitimately surprised.”
Hurley echoed Portney’s theory that Kerry’s local connections might have played a role.
“It’s probably a factor that John Kerry is from Massachusetts,” she said. “He and his staff have relationships with Tufts and Tufts’ staff.”
While employees gave less to the presidential candidate than in 2004, their contributions to Democrats on the whole have increased. They gave more than twice as much to the Democratic National Committee: a combined $12,950 in the 2008 cycle versus $6,410 in the 2004 cycle.
Tufts also gave significantly more to congressional and local Democratic candidates during this cycle, with just over $25,000 in donations in the 2004 cycle but over $45,000 in the current one.
Republicans, perhaps unsurprisingly, fared far worse among Tufts employees in both cycles than Democrats, though President George W. Bush received over twice as much through August 2004 as McCain has so far in 2008.
Hurley said that whatever the donation numbers may be for Tufts employees, she’s seen an increasing number of students contribute in this election cycle.
The amount students gave to Kerry in 2004 is “paltry compared to what students have donated in this election cycle,” she said. “There’s an increased awareness that you don’t have to be a maxing-out donor to give money and to be a part of the campaign and making a crucial difference.
“If you give $30, you’re considered someone who’s important and meaningful to the campaign,” she added.
Specific dollar amounts for student donations are nearly impossible to measure, since donors are required to list their employers, but not their educational information, when giving to campaigns. But Obama’s campaign has long touted its strategy of reaching out to small donors — a tactic he used to justify his decision to forgo public financing, which allowed him to raise far more than the $84 million provided by that system.
Portney said that most small-donor strategies face an inherent problem: Many donors simply don’t have the resources to contribute.
“It’s a combination of enthusiasm and ability to pay,” he said. “There are plenty of people who are enthusiastic about Obama who simply can’t afford to make contributions — so they don’t.”
But by and large, Obama has managed to transcend this issue with sheer charisma, he said.
“The fact is that in this particular election, Obama has energized people to give money when they wouldn’t have given to anybody in another situation,” he said.