An Undergraduate Student Government campaign accused of failing to report a campaign expense was found not to have committed a violation.
There was a judicial panel hearing Tuesday about the case. The panel — which consists of a clerk of court with eight judges and a chief justice, who are all students — found that USG presidential candidate and current vice president Josh Ahart and his runningmate Jen Tripi had not committed a violation in a case brought against them by three other campaign teams.
“The judicial panel has unanimously decided that Josh and Jen were not found in violation of falsifying documents submitted to the judicial panel. Therefore, no penalty has been assessed,” the clerk of court emailed statement, which was obtained by The Lantern Tuesday, said. The email also said the decision could be appealed.
The plaintiff brief had alleged the Ahart-Tripi campaign team failed to report the purchase of a domain name “clearly meant to deter an opposing campaign.”
The brief was filed by Celia Wright, Leah Lacure, Vytas Aukstuolis, Nicholas Macek, Mohamad Mohamad and Sean Crowe.
The domain name in question was “voteceliaandleah.com,” which public record from GoDaddy, a domain and website service, showed was registered to an email address belonging to the Ahart-Tripi campaign manager Tim Lanzendorfer in November.
The plaintiff brief argued failing to report the alleged purchasing of the domain name was a violation of USG bylaws.
“Given that almost three months have elapsed with no documentation of the purchase and the clearly malicious nature of the purchase, meant to interfere with the operations of another team, it is evident that the failure to disclose information was not a simple clerical error but instead an act meant to mislead the judicial panel and obstruct an opposing campaign,” the brief said.
Ahart said after the hearing he was excited about the panel’s decision.
“We are thrilled that the judicial panel ruled unanimously in our favor, as Jen and I never committed any bylaw violations,” Ahart said in an email. “We’re very excited to focus on the issues that affect students in the upcoming weeks.”
If found guilty of the alleged bylaw breach, Ahart and Tripi could have been taken off the ballot, however the brief stated that punitive action shouldn’t have been taken against the nearly 40 General Assembly candidates running on the Ahart-Tripi slate.
The registered campaigns set to appear on the ballot are: Ahart and Tripi; Wright and Lacure; Aukstuolis and Macek; Mohamad and Crowe; Andrew Warnecke and Logan Recker; and Ryan Hedrick and Nicole Spaetzel. The Warnecke-Recker and Hedrick-Spaetzel campaigns were the two campaigns not listed on the plaintiff brief.
USG campaigning is set to begin Wednesday with voting between March 3 and 5.
Wright, a third-year in public health and USG’s senior internal affairs director, said she was “surprised” with the judicial panel’s decision.
“I am not sure that it sets a good precedent for the culture of campaigning that we want to conduct,” she said. “I think sometimes the (judicial panel) rules in favor of the least controversial decision.”
Wright said she didn’t agree with one particular part of the panel’s decision, which she said had agreed with the defense’s argument that the domain could have been a personal purchase made by Lanzendorfer.
“I disagree that the domain was merely a personal purchase of the campaign manager and I’m interested in how voters feel about that alleged use,” she said. “I’m not sure why he would want to own that domain … the defendants said that we would be leaving something to chance if we assumed that it was not simply for personal use.”
Aukstuolis, a third-year in public affairs who is not currently involved with USG, said he, too, was worried about the implications of the decision.
“I hope the decision (doesn’t) start a precedent for future campaigns to start fundraising to block the ability of other teams to campaign effectively along with other dirty campaign practices,” Aukstuolis said.
He added that he “disagreed completely with a lot of the (defense’s) points,” but thinks the judicial panel would have wanted “overwhelming evidence” to disqualify a USG member from the election.
Mohamad, a third-year in chemical engineering and engineering physics who does not officially hold a position in USG this year, said in an email his feelings on the decision were from the “perspective of the undergraduate student.”
“As a student, I am going to vote for the president, vice president and senators that best represent me. The fact that people are being allowed to campaign unfairly with no consequences, and breaching trust before they are even elected concerns me as a member of the undergraduate student body,” Mohamad said.
Wright said the incident is still going to have an impact on the election, regardless of the findings.
“Leah and I now have the responsibility of setting an example for campaign ethics as we realize – we realize that that example needs to be set now,” Wright said.