U-Va. alum discussed university issues with Terry McAuliffe — and donated $50,000

September 24, 2013

As prominent University of Virginia alumni lobby candidates for Virginia governor to involve the university community in selecting members for the Board of Visitors, a leader of the movement has donated $50,000 to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for governor.

Jeffrey C. Walker, chairman of the U-Va. Council of Foundations, donated $25,000 to the Democratic candidate’s campaign in early March and then another $25,000 in late July, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks political campaign donations.

Walker’s second donation came soon after he and key alumni spoke with McAuliffe and his policy director about issues at U-Va. — and soon after the candidate updated his higher education platform to reflect some of the alumni’s ideas, according to e-mails released by the university to The Washington Post last week following a public records request.

Walker, a former chairman and chief operating officer of a private equity firm, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes in recent years. His contribution to McAuliffe’s campaign is far from being the largest sum accepted by either candidate in the closely watched race. There are no campaign contribution limits in Virginia, and candidates are required to report donations collected.

None of the other alumni who are known to have joined the cause have donated directly to McAuliffe’s campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Walker detailed the efforts of U-Va. alumni to sway the candidates in a July 23 e-mail to a New York hedge fund manager he was trying to recruit to the cause.

Walker wrote in the e-mail that he and two other prominent U-Va. graduates, Paul Tudor Jones and Lee Ainslie, had recently spoken with McAuliffe and his policy director, Evan Feinman, about issues facing U-Va. The group’s top priority is to have eight of the 17 board seats filled with appointees selected by the governor from a pool created by U-Va. alumni, donors, faculty, staff and others in the university community.

Terry McAuliffe was very responsive and indicated that he didn’t approve of the system that has been recently used to source BOV candidates and that he definitely wanted to source great candidates and had every intention of sourcing them based on the recommendation of the UVA community,” Walker wrote in that e-mail. “He also expressed support for our views on the other points.”

Soon after that call, Walker wrote, Feinman told him that the campaign had “modified Terry’s higher ed policy and had posted it to their Web site.” The platform of “ensuring proper representation on governing boards” was added to McAuliffe’s list of education-related platforms and reads: “It is critically important that alumni, staff, students and other members of college and university communities are involved in the selection of their governing boards. The Governor should solicit and respect slates of nominees from college and university communities when filling board slots.”

The campaign would not say whether McAuliffe would limit himself to only that pool for any or all of the board positions.

McAuliffe’s campaign reports that it received a contribution of $25,000 from Walker on July 27, bringing his giving total to $50,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project

In the July 23 e-mail, Walker wrote that he hopes to recruit a number of alumni to his cause, as “the more influential names we have associated with our shared voice the more likely we are going to have the future Governor’s ear.” Walker also urged the e-mail recipient to “make a contribution to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign and let me know when you do so I can consolidate the tracking. Andrew Smith is Terry’s finance chair and will be happy to make Terry available to you if you have any questions or want to review with him what his views are re UVA. You can give as much as you like (the state of Virginia does not limit campaign contributions).”

Many states limit the amount that an individual can directly give to a campaign. Maryland’s cap is $4,000, although it will increase to $6,000 in October under the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013.The District does not allow individuals to give more than $2,000 to candidates for mayor.

In an interview last week, Walker rejected any suggestion that he or McAuliffe’s campaign had done anything improper. Walker pointed out that he frequently donates to the campaigns of democrats, and that the group of alumni are willing to work with either party. Walker said that the other advocates, not all of whom are wealthy, have used passion and not money to make their point — and they have yet to see the results they want.

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for McAuliffe, said in a statement that the candidate has met with a wide range of university and college stakeholders, including presidents, to discuss his higher education policy. The platforms on the campaign Web site would apply to all public institutions, not just U-Va.

“Our policy to reform the Board of Visitors appointment process is a commonsense proposal to incorporate college and university communities into the decision making process and take politics out of the equation,” Schwerin wrote. “[W]e would never let campaign contributions impact policy proposals.”

The U-Va. alumni group plans to reach out to Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate. Walker wrote in the July 23 e-mail that U-Va. board member John L. Nau III, a beer distributor from Texas, had “indicated that he is willing to coordinate a discussion with Ken Cuccinelli.”

Nau donated $37,500 to Cuccinelli’s campaign this year, including donations of $12,500 in March and $25,000 in June. Nau has yet to respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

The Cuccinelli campaign said Tuesday that it has not communicated with or met with the alumni involved with this cause — and they criticized McAuliffe for siding with U-Va. donors who have quietly advocated for the elite flagship university to have more control over selecting its governing board and increasing in-state tuition to keep up with costs.

“It appears that Terry McAuliffe is willing to sell out the families of Virginia and raise tuitions to please a bunch of rich New York donors,” said Richard T. Cullen, communications director for Cuccinelli’s campaign. “Ken Cuccinelli believes that the University of Virginia is not for sale and he will hold the line on tuition.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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