Of the 39 active members of the University’s Board of Trustees, the only contributor to either of Gov. Chris Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns has been Chris Christie himself, according to a search of public records through the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission website. Christie donated a total of $14,400 to his campaigns spread over four separate occasions.
As governor, Christie serves as an ex-officio trustee. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
However, two emeritus trustees, John Scully ’66, founder and managing director of SPO Partners & Co., and Edward Matthews ’53, President and Director of C.V. Starr & Co. Inc., donated to Christie’s campaigns. Scully donated $1,000 in 2009 and $3,800 in 2013, while Matthews made two $500 donations in 2013.
Scully told The Daily Princetonian that Christie reminded him of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and other past Republican figures.
“He’s a throwback, moderate Republican, not like all of the wackos that that party has blessed us with since Bush 41 [George Bush, Sr.],” he said.
Matthews did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Overall, current trustees have contributed a total of $35,500 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee and local Republican county committees between 2004 and 2014, while donations to their Democratic counterparts totaled only $500.
However, Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s mayoral campaigns garnered $16,500 and his 2013 senatorial campaign raised $1,500 from current trustees. Cory Booker ran for mayor of Newark in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Scully also donated to Booker’s mayoral campaign.
“[Booker] and Christie are really a promising duo,” Scully said.
None of the current trustees donated to the campaigns of Christie’s past Democratic challengers, Gov. Jon Corzine and state senator Barbara Buono.
However, trustee donation patterns follow a different trend on the federal level.
Among current trustees, donations to Democratic congressional and presidential candidates or to “victory funds” directly associated with Democratic federal-level candidates total at least $503,900 since 2004. The figure for Republican candidates amounts to at least $436,300, according to a Federal Election Commission public database. Current trustees also donated $10,100 to independent candidates.
Since the FEC only displays contributions equal to or above $200, these numbers may not account for all campaign contributions. Additionally, contributions to political action committees and similar structures are not included in the data.
In the 2012 presidential election campaign, 99 percent of faculty and staff donations went to Barack Obama.
Politics department chair Nolan McCarty suggested that selection bias plays a role in the difference between the campaign contributions of trustees and faculty.
“I don’t think it’s overt discrimination against conservatives,” McCarty said. “I do think there probably is a sense in which academia is now overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal to the extent to which some conservatives don’t feel comfortable, and that presumably has an effect on career choices.”
He explained that people employed in the business and finance industries might similarly come to hold more conservative or libertarian attitudes over time. Group dynamics likely help move people toward the majority ideology in their profession, McCarty said.
McCarty cited both political access and a sense of personal fulfillment as reasons why individuals might give substantial amounts of money to political candidates.
“Some donors are giving to get access, some kind of price of admission to be involved in politics in some way that’s close to the candidates and to the policymakers,” McCarty said. “It’s sometimes hard to know from the figures how much is just the price of admission to a fundraiser … You not only get to interact with the candidates, but you also get to interact with all of the other donors of the candidates, creating networking opportunities that may be completely apolitical.”
McCarty also noted that the people who would make the best trustees are more likely to be actively engaged in the community and thus inclined to make political contributions.
Scully added that his own political contributions give him an access that he feels affects the types of ideas and discourse that policymakers take into account.
Scully was optimistic about the future of the Republican Party.
“I am encouraged that the Republicans seem to be moving a little bit off their chaotic, prehistoric bent, simply,” Scully explained. “[Christie] comes over very, very well with Meg Whitman types — educated, smart business people who are not radical, who … don’t want to go back to the Stone Age in terms of social policy.”
Nonetheless, he said he could still end up voting for a Democratic candidate in 2016.
“I think Hillary Clinton has merit — she’s proven that,” Scully noted. “I might give to both candidates if they’re good.”
Scully added that political access has its drawbacks as well.
“Most politicians frankly turn me off,” Scully said. “I feel after I’m with them for a long time, for most of them, I have to take a shower.”
Christie and his administration were recently implicated in a scandal involving politically motivated lane closures in Fort Lee, N.J.