Harvard University employees have donated more money to presidential campaigns this year than workers at any other Massachusetts employer, according to a WBUR analysis of Federal Election Commission records, and their contributions favor Sen. Elizabeth Warren far above the rest of the field.
Employees of Bain Capital and the consulting firm from which it spun out, Bain & Company, have given the second-largest sum. Though voters may know the firms for grooming Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, all donations by Bain employees so far this year have gone to Democrats. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the top recipient.
Other leading employers of Bay State donors include the commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, the Baupost Group hedge fund, the University of Massachusetts system, Google, Tufts University and the law firm Ropes & Gray.
Massachusetts is a gold mine for presidential candidates, especially Democrats raising money to compete in a crowded primary. Candidates have raised $6.4 million in the state during the current election cycle; only the more populous states of California, New York, Texas and Florida have yielded more donations.
Warren's dominance at Harvard is among the most striking trends that emerge in campaign finance data. The former Harvard Law School professor has raised nearly twice as much as her closest rival — in a race full of contenders with Harvard ties.
Rep. Seth Moulton, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, are all Harvard alumni. Sen. Bernie Sanders is a former fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard received the institute's New Frontier Award in 2008 and 2013, respectively, as "model[s] for modern public service in the spirit of John F. Kennedy." Biden was Harvard's class day speaker in 2017.
At $42,628.20 in donations from Harvard employees, Warren outpaces them all.
Nancy Turnbull, the senior associate dean for professional education at Harvard and a Warren donor, said she couldn't speak for her colleagues but said, "I don't think it's surprising that [Warren] has broad support at the university, given that she worked at Harvard for many years, Harvard employees tend to be on the progressive end of the political spectrum, and she's been an excellent senator, so she's well known."
Warren is also the leading fundraiser among employees of MIT, UMass and Tufts, reflecting the respect she commands in academic circles. After Warren, however, there is no consensus.
Sanders is the second-leading recipient of donations from UMass employees but ranks 12th at MIT.
"I suspect it's not that [Sanders] is old but his way of thinking and his way of looking at what he's up to is old," said Jane Abbott, a communication lecturer at MIT who has given to Buttigieg. "I'm just tired of old men yelling."
Buttigieg has raised the second-highest amount from MIT employees.
Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management, explained the logic of his Buttigieg contributions: "There are a relatively small number of states that will determine whether Donald Trump is defeated. There are four or five Midwest states and then Florida. So, the question people like me ask is, how can we find a candidate who will win in those four or five states and Florida? It's really good to have somebody from the Midwest."
Another Buttigieg donor, MIT neuroscience professor Mark Bear, said Buttigieg "exhibits traits that scientists and engineers value. He thinks like a scientist. He's analytical and data-driven. He can break complex problems down and explain them in plain English."
Among Tufts employees, California Sen. Kamala Harris is the second-leading recipient.
Biden leads the way among public employees, though he is clustered at the top with Buttigieg and Warren. In fifth place, President Trump fares better than he does among workers at most other top employers. Trump's donors include state troopers, corrections officers, an MBTA transit police officer and a security guard for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, showing the president's popularity among law enforcement professionals.
WBUR's tally of donations from public employees does not include contributions by employees of the state university system, which were counted separately.
WBUR's analysis includes individual contributions from Massachusetts to presidential campaigns in 2019, through the end of June. FEC rules do not require people who donate less than $200 to disclose their employers, meaning WBUR's tallies do not include small-dollar contributions by people who do not report their places of work.
In some cases, donors fail to comply with disclosure requirements. For example, an Arlington man who has contributed a total of $1,091 to Sanders's campaign, in small increments, lists his employer as "Dontwanttotellyou."
Neither the man nor the Sanders campaign responded to WBUR inquiries.
In other cases, donation totals may require future adjustments. For example, FEC data show $42,891.26 from Mass. General employees, but that figure is slightly inflated by a single doctor who exceeded the legal limit by giving $11,700 to Moulton's campaign.
An individual may donate no more than $5,600 to any candidate, with half earmarked for the primary race and half for the general election. The doctor did not respond to a WBUR inquiry; Moulton's campaign said it has refunded the excess.
Despite some limitations, campaign finance data offer insights into where the people who work at powerful institutions are spending their money.
In one counter-intuitive pattern, Massachusetts donors who list Google as their employer have given far more generously to Warren than to any other candidate, even though the senator wants to break up Google by reversing some of its acquisitions. Warren is popular with Googlers elsewhere, too.
At the Baupost Group, a Boston hedge fund, employees are spreading their donations among the president's challengers in both major parties. Weld, offering a Republican alternative to Trump, is the leading recipient.
Chief Executive Seth Klarman exemplifies the distributed giving, making contributions to Weld, Booker, Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Michael Bennet.
Klarman declined an interview request. WBUR's Board of Directors is chaired by Paul Gannon, a retired Baupost partner.
This segment aired on August 8, 2019.