Sam Landstra – Co-Chief Editor
In All the President’s Men, “Deep Throat,” tells reporter Bob Woodward to “follow the money.” Woodward listened. He connected a slush fund of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Richard Nixon and his Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), breaking the Watergate scandal.
Though this analysis of the administrative cabinet’s political donations doesn’t investigate Watergate or any other fraudulence, the reporting similarly emphasizes institutional transparency.
Since the late 19th century, laws have mandated the publication of political donations. While states and Congress didn’t seriously enforce the legislation until the 1970s, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other government and non-profit organizations now process and publicize the political donations of American individuals and corporations.
For this project, The Diamond searched the databases of the FEC, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board (IECDB), and OpenSecrets, a non-profit.
Though these organizations provide terabytes of publically available information, they depend upon donors to properly report their donations.
In addition, the FEC and the IECDB continue to process donations from the 2020 election cycle. Given this, a minority of donations, particularly those in the 2020 and early 2000s elections cycles, are likely unavailable to the public.
Regardless, 22 individuals served on the administrative cabinet from the 2002 election cycle to the 2020 election cycle. According to publically available information, four of these individials put their money in politics, supporting conservative candidates and independent PACs.
Notably, the donations of Dordt University’s presidents relate to the donations of presidents from similar, Christian, liberal arts universities.
While former Calvin University President Gaylen Byker donated more than $300,000 during his presidency, the presidents of Northwestern College, Trinity Christian College, and Wheaton College individually donated less than $1,000 during their presidencies, according to the FEC and OpenSecrets.
A closer look: Erik Hoekstra
If Dordt University President Erik Hoekstra bumped into Gov. Kim Reynolds or Sen. Chuck Grassley at Wal-Mart, he thinks the Iowa lawmakers would recognize him.
Since assuming the university presidency in 2012, Hoekstra has made “an investment of dollars and an investment of time” in state and federal politics. He lobbies in Washington D.C. “at least” once a year and has served on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).
Hoekstra estimates he has spent an estimated 25 days of his “working life” at the nation’s capital advocating for charitable deductions, religious freedom, and other grants. Recently, he promoted the Pell Grant.
“The funding mechanism for American higher education, at the federal and state level, is a high priority for Dordt as a private college,” Hoekstra said. “Thus, my involvement in politics as Dordt’s president seems appropriate.”
Hoekstra and his predecessor, Carl Zylstra, have put their pocketbooks into politics as well. Since 2001, the presidents of Dordt have donated $6,000 to conservative politicians and non-partisan PACs, including Iowans 4 Higher Education.
“I think the time I spend, as well as many of my political donations, are to be able to attend events and talk with [legislators],” Hoekstra said.
For example, a “relationship” with the senate offices in Des Moines enabled Hoekstra and the university to secure embassy appointments and visas for international students and those enrolled in off-campus programs during the height of COVID-19.
Notably, 8 of Hoekstra’s 13 donations went to incumbent Republicans. For him, these politicians understood limited government and other conservative ideologies through representing Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper’s principle of sphere sovereignty: “When one sphere gets bigger than it should, it crowds out the opportunity or the responsibility of the other sphere to be healthy.”
Hoekstra said he “couldn’t speak” on the donations of the other members of the administrative cabinet.