Conference Funding Sparks Club Drama
Published: Thursday, February 16, 2012
Updated: Friday, February 17, 2012 02:02
The presidents of College Democrats and College Republicans will meet with administrators, the Student Activities Commission and GUSA today to resolve a debate about funding for student groups to attend political conventions.
The issue was first raised when College Republicans requested money from the Georgetown University Student Association Fund to attend last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C. The club applied for funding from GUSA after SAC refused to cover the event registration fees, according to club Chair Maggie Cleary (COL '14).
However, after the request was approved by GUSA, Cleary received an email from SAC Chair Jack Appelbaum (COL '14) explaining that SAC could neither authorize the organization to spend the money nor provide permission to attend the conference as a representative of Georgetown University.
"The commission considered it, and then we deferred to university officials and the [Office of] University Counsel," Appelbaum said. "Based on their interpretation and judgment of the policy, we asserted that it would be a violation of the policy and the commission couldn't authorize them to go."
Georgetown operates as a tax-exempt institution under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits the university from engaging in or supporting any partisan political activity.
The Conservation Political Action Conference, or CPAC, was organized by the American Conservation Union Foundation, which aims to promote conservative education and is also registered under Section 501(c)(3).
"Read the headlines on [the CPAC] website," Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming said, justifying the university's decision. "I would suspect anybody looking at the headlines that came out of this conference could have left with the impression that it was partisan political activity."
Cleary, however, disagreed that the fees would fund a partisan political committee or candidates.
"The money for registration fees was going to the American Conservative Union that runs CPAC every year," she said.
According to Appelbaum, the rule has been applied evenly to both College Democrats and College Republicans.
"I know one of the things that the university administrators did was to look back in history to see what SAC has funded, and they couldn't find any other evidence of funding for an event of this nature that passed," he said.
The College Democrats have not received funding to go to national conferences in recent years, but would like to attend the College Democrats of America annual conference this year, according to club Chair Joseph Vandegriff (COL '14).
Several members of the College Republicans ultimately decided to register for the conference as individuals unaffiliated with the university. Fleming said he supported the university's decision to withhold funding for the event, but was pleased that the students chose to attend on their own.
"It is our goal, to the extent we can, to find a way for you to do what you want to do in your organizations … within the constraints of the law," Fleming said. "My understanding is that it didn't stop anybody from going to CPAC. I'm glad they got to do it and it didn't dust up our tax-exempt status."