By Olivia Krauth–
Some Student Government Association members worry outside political action committees are trying to sway the current election, a trend which other universities are facing.
SGA Presidential candidate Georgiana “Georgie” Sook and slate partner and Executive Vice President candidate Kyle Bilyeu are rumored to have received campaign funding from a Politcal Action Committee. Multiple SGA officials confirmed to the Cardinal that they’re aware of the matter, but are unaware of its roots.
Sook denied her campaign accepted funding from the Leadership Institute, which “teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government and the media,” according to its website. Vice President for the Campus Leadership Program Bryan Bernys said the institute focuses on training efforts and doesn’t normally support student government campaigns.
Bernys said the Leadership Institute is not involved in the Sook-Bilyeu campaign and didn’t know of any U of L campaigns they were involved with.
“Our campaign is 100 percent self-funded,” Sook said. “It’s a shame that we’re being smeared like this.”
All other presidential candidates – Abdul Hasib, Zoe Barrow, Jonas Bastien, Vishnu Tirumala, Keith Auspland and X’Zashea Lawson-Mayes – said they were not approached by any outside organizations offering campaign funds or resources.
The alleged outside influence sparked a SGA resolution denouncing outside campaign contributions, according to a source close to the creation of the resolution, which passed in the SGA Senate Feb. 14.
“In order to maintain effective representation of and action on behalf of the U of L student body only, it is in the best interest of the U of L Student Government Association to ensure its candidates and officials are free from influence in the form of outside, in-kind and monetary contributions,” the resolution reads.
“It is the prerogative of the student body to hold all U of L Student Government Association candidates to a high moral and ethical standard, as they would represent student interests and only student interests if elected.”
Speaker of the Senate Tyler Poteet said everyone, including Sook, voted in favor of the resolution, except for himself, who abstained.
The resolution doesn’t make accepting outside contributions an election violation, and the SGA general election rules do not define guidelines on outside contributions. SGA Chief Justice Sarah Pennington said the court can still sanction candidates for things not defined in the general election rules.
“While any kind of monetary or in-kind contribution would likely result in a complaint that required a hearing before the SGA Supreme Court, the court will make their decision based on the facts of the case and existing precedent,” Pennington said.
SGA general election rules prohibit endorsements, including monetary and in-kind contributions, from recognized student organizations or U of L departments and affiliates.
SGA candidates must submit a campaign value report, listing expenses and contributions, to the SGA Supreme Court. Pennington said the reports are due at 5 p.m. March 2, seven hours before voting closes. Campaign spending limits max out at $500 for presidential candidates.
Other student government candidates in the state are in similar situations. One Student Body President candidate at the University of Kentucky, Fletcher Lyon, has been tied to alleged outside influence and to Sook.
According to the Kentucky Kernel, Lyon called rumors his team accepted money from the conservative Leadership Institute “baseless.”
“We’re not some organization that has an agenda that they want us to fulfill,” Lyon told the Kernel.
Lyon said he’s not sure how he got involved, calling outside funded campaigns “unethical” in an interview with the Cardinal. He also said he isn’t tied to Sook through high school, noting they lived in Paducah and Owensboro, respectively.
The Ohio State University newspaper, the Lantern, reported Turning Point USA, a conservative organization known for promoting limited government, plans on injecting money into an OSU Undergraduate Student Government campaign.
According to leaked exchanges published by the Lantern, TPUSA reps have $6,000 to directly give to one campaign. Leaked texts from Kennedy Copeland, a TPUSA leadership director, said, “(Turning Point) is funding the campaign but that’s very hush hush. Liberals consistently dominate campus student government and our goal is to take them out secretly without them knowing what’s coming.”
According to a leaked phone conversation reported by the Lantern, Alana Mastrangelo, TPUSA’s Heartland Regional Director, said student government races are “really important” to TPUSA donors. Requests for comment from U of L’s TPUSA group were not immediately returned.
“Partisan politics have no place in (undergraduate student government at OSU), period. Candidates should be accepting $$ from outside groups to fund their campaigns,” Danielle Di Scala, OSU’s USG Vice President, tweeted Feb. 28.
“The rumors and allegations, and now proof as seen by what is happening at Ohio State, that PACs and political coalitions are trying to influence student government elections is deeply troubling. The goal of student government isn’t to be partisan, but to be an institution that works to serve all students in the hope of improving the student experience,” U of L SGA President Aaron Vance said. “Sometimes we track legislation and we head to the capital to advocate on behalf of the student body, but that’s to the extent that this job should be focused on politics. This role is apolitical and anything trying to change that is worrisome.”
The incoming SGA President steps into a seat on U of L’s Board of Trustees, as well as the next presidential and provost search committees. He or she may also gain at seat on U of L Foundation’s Board of Directors, a spot Vance has been fighting for throughout his term. The foundation controls U of L’s $737 million endowment.
After a delay in ballots, voting in SGA elections will continue until March 2. Results will be sealed until after the hearing of election-related cases March 6, when the final results and any run-offs will be announced.