Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Former Senator Donates $4 Million to Georgetown in Largest Higher Education Congressional Donation Ever

Former Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) made a record charitable donation of $4 million to Georgetown University from his campaign fund account, the largest congressional campaign donation ever made directly to a university, according to a comprehensive database.

The $4 million donation, which was made public in a Jan. 31 filing, quadrupled the next largest congressional campaign donation to a university, according to Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at OpenSecrets, an independent nonprofit that tracks money in U.S. politics. Richard Shelby chose not to run for reelection in 2022 after serving in the U.S. Senate for 36 years, leaving him with $16 million of unspent campaign funds.

The senator’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Annette Shelby, the senator’s wife, is professor emerita in the McDonough School of Business (MSB). In 1997, Annette Shelby became the first woman to be a tenured professor in the MSB; she taught at Georgetown for more than 20 years. 

Annette Shelby said her husband raised more money than was necessary to fund his senatorial campaigns and felt that giving back to Georgetown would make a continuing impact for university students.

“In the end, he had some money left, and he felt that Georgetown had been such a wonderful place for me and had given me many opportunities,” Annette Shelby told The Hoya. “He wanted to show that, and he also wanted to leave some kind of legacy for me as well.” | Former Sen. Richard Shelby donated $4 million from his campaign account to Georgetown University, where his wife, Annette Shelby, taught for 20 years and has been tenured since 1997.

Annette Shelby also said the recent donation to Georgetown comes after Richard Shelby’s campaign donated much of its excess funds to other universities and fellow candidates, though all of these donations together did not total even $1 million.

A university spokesperson said the donation will fulfill important needs in the MSB.

“Georgetown works carefully with our generous donors to ensure alignment of goals in the purpose of gifts,” the spokesperson wrote to The Hoya. “We deeply appreciate the trailblazing contributions Prof. Shelby has made to the Georgetown University community over the years and are grateful for this gift in support of critical priorities at the McDonough School of Business.”

Mayersohn said the OpenSecrets database reflects expenditures from the past several election cycles, using sections of publicly available data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Only a few political campaigns in the past decade have donated near or over $4 million to any charitable organization. Such donations include a $6 million donation from former Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign to the McCain Institute, a part of Arizona State University; a $4.2 million donation from former Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) to the Marty Meehan Educational Foundation; and $3.5 million from the campaign of former Rep. Sara Gideon (D-Maine) to Maine Equal Justice, a nonprofit organization.

Richard Shelby’s campaign committee recorded one donation of $4 million disbursed to Georgetown University on Nov. 3, 2022, according to the FEC website. Shelby’s campaign account now has about $5.5 million in remaining funds.

Richard Shelby also leads the political action committee (PAC) Defend America, which supports Republican candidates. According to The Washington Post, in 2014 Shelby used substantial campaign and PAC funds for extravagant travel and food expenses. These expenses included $4,400 at the Senate Gift Shop and $1,000 at Chick-fil-A, according to The Wall Street Journal.

For the 2021-2022 period, records show reimbursements of over $28,000 in total to Richard Shelby and Annette Shelby for travel and food expenses.

Richard Shelby left office with the most leftover funds out of any retiring member of the 117th Congress, with $9.7 million in his campaign account and $6.5 million in Defend America, according to Roll Call.

FEC records show that Defend America contributed a total of $5.5 million to the Alabama Christian Conservatives, a super PAC that supported his successor, Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.). Donating leftover leadership PAC funds directly to a super PAC is relatively unusual, according to Mayersohn.

Mayersohn said that once a member of U.S. Congress retires, the main options for spending leftover campaign funds include giving to a charitable organization, donating to a party committee, refunding campaign donors or supporting another candidate.

“I would guess the normal thing to do is to donate the money that was raised to begin with to support fellow members of their party,” Mayersohn told The Hoya.

Myles Martin, FEC public affairs specialist, said federal campaign committees are allowed to donate to educational institutions, as they are a type of organization that falls under the charitable donation category outlined in Section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.

“Donations of campaign funds to a charitable organization do not constitute the personal use of campaign funds unless the candidate (former or current) receives compensation from the donee organization before the organization has expended, for purposes unrelated to the candidate’s personal benefit, the entire amount donated by the campaign,” Martin wrote to The Hoya.

Richard Shelby’s campaign account has never received money from Georgetown University, according to the FEC website.

Mayersohn said that because leadership PACs face fewer restrictions on spending, FEC records are not fully reflective of how candidates handle their funds. 

“Be aware of what the data can and can’t tell you,” Mayersohn said. “We know a lot about who donates to congressional campaigns because that data is all required to be made public and with very stringent requirements. We know a lot less about who donates to super PACs and outside spending groups because those groups have many more avenues of hiding the money.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Emily Han
Emily Han, Senior Multimedia Editor
Emily Han is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences from Los Altos, Calif., studying government and economics. She was a ball kid for Roger Federer and Bill Gates when they played doubles together at the 2018 Match for Africa. [email protected]

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *