This year, 21 months before the presidential elections, the Conservative Political Action Conference will feature keynotes by presidential contenders such as Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty. Attending the event will be 13 members of the College Republicans. They will be doing so, supporting these political candidates, using Student Activity Fee (SAF).
Joint Finance Committee policy prohibits the use of the SAF for political activities. CPAC certainly qualifies as a political activity. While College Republicans may claim that CPAC is simply a networking opportunity for its members, the purpose of the Conference goes well beyond that. The conference attendees conduct a straw poll each year, naming their top picks for the Republican presidential nomination. Candidates use CPAC keynotes to push their campaigns, hoping to curry favor with the conservative wing of their party. These are the activities of an organization that supports a political agenda and can make or break the career of a budding Republican nominee.
JFC never considered the possibility that this bill violated the political activities clause of JFC policy. Any bill put forward by the College Republicans (or the College Democrats for that matter) ought to be scrutinized carefully to make sure it does not violate this rule. Although GSS did fail the bill, there was no debate at all, save for a single statement of opposition by AE Sen. Michael Ellis. No one mentioned the fact that CPAC is a partisan activity, and no one thought to fight for the failure or the passage of the bill based on what they thought SGA ought to finance with the SAF.
UHR, though it did debate the bill at length, got bogged down in details, distracted by miscommunications and errors among UHR, GSS, JFC and College Republicans. Based on this confusion alone, UHR should have failed or postponed the bill and asked College Republicans to come back the following week. Although this would have prevented College Republicans from using the funds since the event would have been completed by the time funds would have been available, it would have served as an apt warning to student organizations to be prepared before asking for a rushed decision from SGA.
Regardless of the procedural confusion that resulted from the debate, UHR completely failed to consider the wisdom of the bill. Not one representative asked his or her colleagues to pause and consider the ramifications of funding a political activity. No one brought up JFC policy. No one uttered even the weakest of opposition.
However, both student body presidents have the opportunity to correct this error. Undergraduate Corey T. Boone and Graduate President Anthony Baldridge can use their veto pens to make sure that the SAF is properly spent. They should do so quickly and with confidence.
Why did the bill get as far as it did? In part, the bill’s success is due to the Chairman of College Republicans, Kristen Greig. Greig stood on the floor of UHR through the entirety of debate Tuesday evening, speaking up with commentary and support. This was in violation of House rules, but she was rarely reminded of that fact. Greig had also presented earlier that evening, leading the HOPE Open Forum. Perhaps this is why the Representatives were comfortable with her causally participating in debate. The fact that she could represent the student body in a political issue as important as HOPE and then turn around to represent the interests of College Republicans, a goal of which is to elect candidates who hold Republican ideals, is troubling.
Greig should remove this conflict of interest immediately by resigning as either Student Lobby Board Chair or as Chair of the College Republicans. The members of SGA who represent the student body should not split their loyalties.
This week’s SGA meetings revealed several troubling issues with the way SGA views its relationship with partisan political activities. With tough fights over the future of HOPE and the budget about to peak, it’s important that the representatives of the student body rededicate themselves to the people who elected them: the student body.