Members of the University of California Student Association held an emergency conference call Tuesday afternoon to discuss allegations of a conflict of interest and lack of transparency in campaign finances that were brought against Avi Oved, the student regent-designate nominee for the UC Board of Regents.
About 100 student public commenters spoke during the two-hour teleconference. Although UCSA President Kareem Aref reached out to Oved to participate in the call, Oved was not present at the meeting and released a public written statement minutes before it began.
On Saturday, UCSA called for an emergency meeting to discuss whether to investigate allegations that Oved received and did not disclose a donation that originated from Adam Milstein, a prominent supporter of pro-Israel organizations, when he ran for an undergraduate student government position in 2013. Amal Ali, a UC Riverside student who served as last year’s president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Riverside, brought the allegations to UCSA on Saturday.
Oved did not comment in his statement on whether he received donations from Milstein.
An IRS Form 990-PF for the foundation did not list the Bruins United campaign as a recipient of donations from the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation during the 2013 fiscal year. The foundation donated $10,500 to Hillel at UCLA and $50,000 to the UCLA Foundation for the Center for Middle East Development that year, according to the tax return and the foundation’s website.
Milstein said in a statement Tuesday morning that neither he nor his foundation made a donation to Oved or the Bruins United slate. Some commenters have alleged that Milstein may have done so through Hillel at UCLA, which endorsed all Bruins United candidates in 2013.
Tammy Rubin, the former president of Hillel at UCLA, said on the conference call that she thinks the allegations against Oved target the Jewish community and she pointed out the foundation’s IRS forms show that Oved and the slate did not receive a donation from Milstein.
“I don’t know why we’re having this conversation if there is no proof,” Rubin said. “(The Milstein foundation has) given you everything you want to know. That’s transparency. I’m really not sure what there is left to investigate.”
Students who made the allegations Saturday presented what they said was an email from Oved and other members of the Bruins United slate to Milstein thanking him for the alleged campaign donation. In the email, Oved allegedly said he will work to “make sure that UCLA will maintain its allegiance to Israel and the Jewish community” and that he will represent the Jewish voice in student government.
In his statement prior to the meeting, Oved said he disclosed how his campaign contributions were spent and complied with all requirements of the Undergraduate Students Association Council election code. He did not comment on whether he received donations from Milstein.
“USAC required me to disclose how campaign contributions were spent – which I did,” Oved said in the statement. “Any suggestion that I violated the election code by failing to provide information not required is spurious and is nothing more than an attack against me as a pro-Israel student.”
USAC candidates are not required by the election code to disclose their campaign funding sources.
Some public commenters and UCSA board members said they are concerned that Oved allegedly received money from outside organizations and donors such as Milstein.
“Unfortunately, this recent attack is representative of a new breed of bullying on our campuses in which baseless attacks are leveled against the integrity of individuals,” Oved said in the statement, which Aref read aloud during the conference call.
Oved added that as a student regent-designate he plans to serve as an advocate for all students.
Some public commenters said they were concerned about a possible conflict of interest were it to be found that Oved accepted donations from Milstein.
“Having the support of someone like Milstein as a student regent is unacceptable,” said a student from UC Davis who claimed the Milstein foundation is “racist and Islamophobic.”
Others said they think Oved should have the freedom to voice his opinions and that the allegations were an attack on his personal beliefs.
“I don’t understand what the issue is here,” said a student from UC Merced. “All of us are unique and cannot represent everyone.”
If the foundation contributed money to Oved’s campaign, the donation could be illegal if USAC positions are considered public offices, said Jill Horwitz, a professor at the UCLA School of Law who teaches a course on nonprofit tax laws. She added that in student governments at private universities, student leadership positions are not considered public offices.
Oved, who was elected USAC internal vice president for the 2013-2014 academic year, was nominated by a committee of UC regents in May to serve as the nonvoting student regent-designate for 2014-2015 and as the student regent for 2015-2016. The UC Board of Regents is set to confirm Oved’s nomination during its July meeting at UC San Francisco.
The UC has not yet commented on how it will respond to the allegations against Oved, adding that it is reserving comments for the matter until after it is resolved by UCSA.
USAC External Vice President Conrad Contreras, who is UCLA’s undergraduate representative on UCSA, said in the conference that he feels uncomfortable with the board taking further action without speaking to Oved first.
The board decided not to make any decisions about the allegations until it hears more student comments and has a chance to speak with Oved.
At the end of the meeting, the board voted to allow students to submit public comments on a Google form through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
The UCSA Systemwide Affairs Committee will meet Thursday to respond to submitted comments and continue discussing the allegations. Unlike Tuesday’s conference call, the meeting will not be open to the public.