September 21, 2011; Source: Boston Globe | Last month, we covered the scrutiny that City Year co-founder Alan Khazei received from the Boston media for continuing to earn consulting fees from Be the Change, a nonprofit organization he founded, even after he became a declared candidate for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. Now, the latest entrant into the race, Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, is also facing accusations that her candidacy is incompatible with paid employment at a nonprofit organization.

In a letter to Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, the Massachusetts Republican Party argues that by continuing to pay her the school is implicitly endorsing her Senate candidacy. Normally, tax-exempt nonprofits are disallowed from supporting candidates for political office. Warren is scheduled to teach only one class, contract law, this fall, according to the Boston Globe. Last year, she made $350,000 from Harvard plus $182,000 from royalties and consulting fees.

Right now it appears unlikely that the Mass GOP’s gambit will bear fruit, as there are several key differences between the Elizabeth Warren situation and that of her fellow Democratic Senate candidate Alan Khazei:

  • Despite stepping down as CEO of Be the Change to run for office, Khazei’s consulting contract with the organization gave him an ability to influence the management of the organization that Warren could never possess as a solitary professor at an enormous university.
  • The prohibition on nonprofit participation in electoral politics is designed to shut off a possible way for a single wealthy individual to swing an election by making large donations to a charity connected with a candidate for public office. The chance that such an individual, or even a small group of people, could influence the U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts by making donations to Harvard, or even to Harvard Law School, seems infinitesimally small.
  • It does not appear that Warren’s salary or position at Harvard has changed as a result of her becoming a candidate, making it difficult to see how the school could be seen as “endorsing” her. If that were the standard, then no one could hold a job while running for office.

Of course, Warren cannot use her position at Harvard for any kind of electoral campaign activities, including recruitment of supporters, recruitment of volunteers, and so forth. By the way, the last sitting Harvard professor to run for office was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was first elected to the Senate from New York in 1976 while a member of the Harvard faculty.—Chris Hartman