$191,126.23. That is the total amount of money donated so far by a USF trustee and his wife to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor was praised for his leadership at the beginning of the ongoing pandemic, however, following criticism over California’s more recent COVID response, Newsom is now on the cusp of facing a recall election.
The recall effort has attracted interest across the political spectrum, and the Bay Area boasts a significant number of big-money donors. Among them are USF trustee Dixon Doll and his wife, Carol Doll, who are major donors to Republican candidates and conservative groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but have also occasionally donated to Democrats in the past. The Dolls’ donation of more than $191,000 to the recall effort makes them one of the largest contributors in the state.
According to publicly available campaign finance data, none of the other 37 trustees have contributed to the recall effort.
Kellie Samson, head of media relations for USF, said that because the University is a tax-exempt organization, it is not allowed to endorse political candidates or lobby for legislation. But this policy does not extend to trustees. “Like every other member of the USF community, each trustee is entitled to his/her/their political views,” said Samson. “There is no policy on how Trustees choose to support candidates or causes.”
As a trustee member, Doll serves on the board’s executive committee and chairs its investment committee, through which he advises the board on endowment investment decisions. In the past, the investment committee has sunk USF funds into a venture capital fund Doll himself ran, but he recused himself from that process. Doll is serving his sixth three-year term on the Board of Trustees.
Doll is currently self-employed at his venture capital firm, a field he has worked in for the past four decades, investing in start-ups. He is one of a number of Silicon Valley elites bankrolling the recall effort to the tune of $1.5 million in contributions. Prominent recall groups have claimed they have received nearly $4 million in contributions thus far.
At the time of publication, neither Doll nor his wife responded to a request for comment.
California is one of 20 states in the country that allows voters to remove state elected officials, including a sitting governor. In order for a recall effort to initiate an election, supporters will need 12% of the total number of votes from the 2018 gubernatorial election (about 1,495,709 signatures) by March 17. Though the recall organizers claim they have collected more than 1.9 million signatures, the latest report by the California Secretary of State’s office shows that through February, while they have received more than a million signatures, only about 668,000 are considered valid.
If recall organizers reach the nearly 1.5 million signatures required, voters will be asked if Newsom should be removed, and if Newsom is recalled, voters will name his replacement from a list of candidates.
It has been 18 years since a California governor last faced recall threats. In 2003, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and subsequently replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conservatives in the state have previously unsuccessfully pushed for a recall against Newsom, but given California’s current COVID-19 response troubles, support for a recall has strengthened.
USF politics professor James Taylor said the recall began as a partisan effort, but has since become an outlet for Californians’ frustration over the pandemic, confusion with state health guidelines, and Newsom’s controversial dinner at a Napa Valley restaurant in November. “What prompted this was some of the bad press Newsom got in terms of his own contradictions and hypocrisy [around COVID],” Taylor said.
However, Taylor noted that a decline in COVID-19 cases across the state and vaccination progress are easing the negative attention toward Newsom. “The recall’s energy is COVID. The problem is the vaccinations are here. The cause for accusations against him is dying with each injection a Californian gets,” Taylor said.
According to the Associated Press, Republicans have not won a statewide race in California since 2006, and registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a 2-to-1 ratio. “Because of the number of Democrats, especially in the Northern and Southern part of the state, all he needs to do is focus on COVID and, to that extent, Newsom can exhale a little bit about being recalled and surviving,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that the recall is a “political weapon” being exploited by a small group of Republican donors. “Just because the governor doesn’t perform well at a certain point, doesn’t mean the framers of the California constitution meant to abuse the referendum process.”
Though USF has a reputation of being a liberal-leaning campus, Taylor insisted, “having a conservative on the Board [of Trustees] represents USF’s diversity and people who are progressive or Democrat-leaning have to be mature to allow that because they may bring a lot to the table.”
Doll is not the first trustee to make political donations. According to state and federal campaign finance disclosures, current trustees have donated to both Democratic and Republican candidates, causes, and PACs in the past.
Doll is the only current trustee financially supporting the recall, but seven current trustees previously donated to either Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign or his prior successful bids for lieutenant governor. Of the trustees who supported Newsom, four gave more than $10,000 to his campaigns in the past.
Given that part of USF’s mission is a commitment to diversity and social justice, Taylor said, “to me, it’s fine to give $100,000 to conservative causes, but if you’re at USF you ought to be giving that same money to the students who are less-advantaged.”
Miguel Arcayena is a junior politics major, Deputy News Editor, and a General Assignment Reporter at the Foghorn. He covers COVID-19-related campus news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ethan Tan is a junior politics major and the Foghorn’s News Editor. He covers the University’s administration and campus labor unions. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tanethans.