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Alexandra Tashman: LET’S ACT! press release of campaign finances lacks transparency

By Alexandra Tashman

Jan. 7, 2015 12:00 a.m.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council is no stranger to debate from divestment to surplus funding to election codes, there’s no shortage of tough topics for the council to tackle.

The latest issue of controversy comes courtesy of LET’S ACT!, one of several slates that run candidates for USAC elections. On Monday, current LET’S ACT! councilmembers who ran in the 2014 USAC elections published a press release via Facebook touting their campaign finance transparency and listing the amount of funding they received from a variety of different sources, such as alumni and T-shirt sales. These figures were released in response to reporting done by The Bruin that noted the lack of fund disclosure from all three slates that ran in the 2014 election.

While it is always beneficial to the student body to have transparency in regards to campaign finance from any of the USAC slates, there are a number of major problems with the LET’S ACT! release.

Namely, while they have provided the total amount of financial support received from collective funding sources, such as all alumni contributions or all funds gained from T-shirt sales, they have not released individual donor names and their respective donation amounts.

According to the release, the students are contacting alumni, family and student donors and asking for their consent to release their names.

However, this is a particularly flawed approach to campaign transparency because reaching out to only family, alumni and students limits student knowledge about whether people outside of those groups donated. Even if donations only came from those groups of people, students can’t be sure until they see every name.

It also means that any controversial donor could simply deny a request to release his or her name. Moreover, campaign managers could choose not to release the names of more potentially questionable outside donors under the guise of privacy, leaving students none the wiser.

Without a complete list of names and their accompanying donation amounts, there is no effective way for students to completely monitor who is funding their student government officials’ campaigns.

This release comes in the wake of revelations published by The Bruin in December, that saw outside funding sources contributing to the campaigns of the Bruins United slate. In particular, donations made by Adam Milstein, of the pro-Israel Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, to Hillel that were then funneled into Bruins United campaigns were a troubling indication of outside influence on major USAC platforms, and caused a campus-wide debate about the ethical ramifications of outside donors.

In California, under the Political Reform Act of 1974, otherwise known as Proposition 9, all campaign contributions and expenditures have to be released to the public. Moreover, the Federal Election Campaign Act requires that all contenders running for national positions have to release information about financial contributions from political action committees and individuals that exceed $200.

Scale the $200 required on the federal level down to USAC donation numbers, and it’s equivalent to $5 or $10 apiece. Any donor who gives more than those amounts, for which even T-shirt purchases would qualify, should know that they will have their name released. This should be a standard course of action for all USAC campaigns.

Basically, unless LET’S ACT!, and all other slates, release itemized donation lists, where they provide names linked to the numbers, any and all claims at transparency should be treated with the suspicion they deserve.

And until USAC’s election code reflects this necessity, there could be dozens more donors like Adam Milstein hidden in the wings.

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Alexandra Tashman
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