This post was updated 11 p.m. on Feb. 16.
Several campus groups signed a contract last year that threatened to financially penalize those who failed to support a referendum.
Eight mother organizations agreed to only support the Social Justice Referendum and not endorse any candidates in the 2016 Undergraduate Students Association Council election. The contract refers to the signatories as “The Coalition” and states any violators must pay a $2,000 fine to the rest of the groups. It also states any violators with projects that receive Community Programs Office funding would have to cut their budget by 10 percent.
Some student leaders said the contract hurt the Waves of Change slate and benefited Bruins United, which went on to win a majority of the seats on the council.
USAC elections, which typically feature two or three slates and independent candidates, are held every spring to fill 14 positions on the council. Students can also vote to pass fee referenda, which use student fees to pay for programs and offices.
SJR now funds a variety of retention and outreach programs using $24.99 in quarterly student fees. It was largely backed by the CPO and the mother organizations, which are cultural or religious groups housed in the CPO. The referendum was involved in several controversies – organizers exceeded the campaign spending limit by nearly $7,000 and campaigned while sanctioned by the USAC Election Board, which oversees the elections.
The mother organizations listed on the contract include the Afrikan Student Union, Asian Pacific Coalition and Muslim Student Association, among others.
Mother organizations have historically supported what are considered progressive slates, which generally field candidates from underrepresented communities. For example, in 2015, ASU, Samahang Pilipino, MSA and MEChA endorsed candidates from LET’S ACT!, which ran as the progressive slate that year.
However, last year’s progressive slate, Waves of Change, was not endorsed by any mother organizations. Janay Williams, an alumna and former ASU chair, said she thinks this was because of the contract.
Williams said she signed the contract because she thought it would keep mother organizations focused on passing SJR. She said the leaders of the organizations jointly wrote the contract with input from CPO.
“Mother orgs have had difficulty staying together in previous years, so this contract was for us to keep the peace and make sure we were able to pass the referendum smoothly,” she said.
Antonio Sandoval, CPO director, said CPO staff were not involved in the creation of the contract.
“The professional staffs of campus departments refrain from involvement in student government campaigns,” he said in an email response. “The CPO embraces this tradition and CPO professional staff were not involved in any conversations about the contract.”
Zack Dameron, USAC Community Service commissioner, said he thinks the contract unjustly used financial repercussions to coerce groups into not endorsing candidates.
Dameron, who ran independently last year, helped organize SJR until he backed out and formed a separate referendum called the #UCLAwellness Referendum, which also passed last year.
Williams said she thinks the contract did not coerce mother organizations. She said they signed the contract because they agreed it was important to pool their resources together and support SJR.
She added she thinks the financial repercussions were excessive but provided an extra layer of accountability.
“I honestly don’t think any of the mother orgs planned on fining any other mother org,” she said. “We are students of color – money doesn’t come easy to us.”
Dameron said he believes the contract reflected an alliance that SJR may have had with Bruins United. He said he thinks the mother organizations not endorsing any candidates last year benefited Bruins United.
“I think the alliance between Bruins United and SJR was representative of slate politics coming before students, as it does in many situations in USAC,” he said.
Heather Rosen and Trent Kajikawa, who were council members last year, were among the individuals who signed a petition to the judicial board challenging the election board’s sanctions against SJR. Both Rosen and Kajikawa were Bruins United members, which Dameron said indicates an alliance.
USAC President Danny Siegel, who ran with Bruins United last year, said he thinks allegations of an alliance are baseless. He said Bruins United supported SJR because it wanted to help underrepresented communities on campus.
“To say that our support for the referendum was some kind of political expediency is completely wrong, and quite frankly, offensive,” Siegel said.
Williams also said she does not think there was an alliance. She said though none of the mother organizations could officially endorse Waves of Change, their members were free to personally support the slate.
“I would never work with Bruins United – I did not want them to win,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that Waves of Change lost the election, but that’s just the way the cards were dealt.”
Amy Shao, USAC Cultural Affairs commissioner, who ran with Waves of Change, said she and the two other candidates in her slate were informed about the contract two weeks before the May election. The contract was signed and dated in February.
“It was not something shady that was kept from us,” Shao added. “It made sense that they were pulling all their resources to support the referendum.”
She said she thinks the lack of endorsement from mother organizations did not hurt her slate’s chance of victory. Shao was the only candidate in Waves of Change to win a seat on the council.
“I do believe that there are numerous students that supported the (referendum) and supported us,” she added.
Election board Chair Danielle Fitzgerald said she would not be able to say if the contract violated the election code without conducting an investigation first.
Fitzgerald added the board would have investigated the contract last year if someone had submitted a complaint about it.