The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Study: George Mason Board of Visitors members donated heavily to Republicans

Each of the public universities in Virginia is overseen by a Board of Visitors, which hires the university president and sets school policy. The governor appoints the members of the board to four-year terms, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that the current 16 members at George Mason University in Fairfax, appointed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, donated almost $469,000 to Republican political candidates in the last four years, and slightly less than $9,500 to Democratic candidates, a new report in George Mason’s Fourth Estate student publication shows.

Executive Editor Frank Muraca worked up the numbers from campaign finance reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. The spreadsheet showing each member’s donations is here. In 2010, The Post’s Anita Kumar reported that “It’s common for governors to use board of visitors appointments — the most prestigious appointments they have to offer — as a thank-you to longtime supporters and friends.” It would not be unheard of, then, for the new Virginia governor to install a more Democratic-leaning board, by this logic. Here is the Fourth Estate’s primer on what the Board of Visitors is.

Most of the current members donated to McDonnell’s campaign in 2009 or his inauguration in 2010, with Robert F. Pence giving $25,703 to McDonnell (and another $25,000 last year to Ken Cuccinelli), John Michael Jacquemin (no relation) giving $17,500 to McDonnell and Rector Dan Clemente giving $10,000 to McDonnell’s inauguration and about another $11,000 each to Cuccinelli and Delegate Barbara Comstock. Only Mohammad Siddique Sheikh of Prince William County dared to buck the trend, giving $4,977 to Democrats, $1,700 to Republicans and zero to McDonnell. In addition, the 16 members gave another $163,000 to various PACs or associations, listed as “Other” in the spreadsheet.

The full list of members of the Board of Visitors, which also includes former Fairfax Board Chairman Tom Davis and former Fairfax Supervisor Stuart Mendelson, is here, along with their bios.

In a related note, George Mason has been the beneficiary of some serious donations in recent years from the wealthy Koch brothers, known for their conservative views. According to the Investigative Reporting Workshop, Koch charitable foundations gave more than $30 million to three Mason entities between 2007 and 2011: $16.3 million to the George Mason University Foundation, $10.3 million to the Institute for Humane Studies and $3.7 million to the Mercatus Center, the business school . an economic research center. There are no allegations in the story that any of the funds sent to Mason were used for political purposes, and a Mason official is quoted as such. The Kochs donated to 221 universities in the five-year period, but Mason received by far the most. The full story, headlined “Koch millions spread influence through nonprofits, colleges,” is here.

Disclosure: I teach a class at Mason as an adjunct professor in the criminology department. I have donated to no candidates, and have received no money from the Koch brothers. Also, I initially mischaracterized the Mercatus Center, and have corrected that.