The Associated Students of Madison is using student segregated fees to reimburse several students for the cost of attending the Conservative Political Action Conference this month, the latest bad idea in a long tradition of bad ideas for using segregated fees.
The students attending the event will be from different groups and committees from ASM. That’s an important point, because if a specific conservative group on campus, like College Republicans, was using the money it already receives for something like this, I don’t think there would be an issue. But since it is ASM itself, it needs to be held to a higher level of accountability. Specifically, it must demonstrate a conference like this furthers the stated goals of ASM.
On their website, ASM says it is “dedicated to one cause: maintaining and improving the quality of education and student life on campus,” and so the question is: does CPAC fit the criteria?
CPAC’s “about us” page says, “CPACs have become the place to find our nation’s current and future leaders and sets the conservative agenda each year.”
So, that doesn’t exactly scream a focus on student life. But ASM Vice Chair Maria Giannopoulos argued, “We’re sending people to CPAC because it is a marketplace of ideas. It trains people who might have a different viewpoint.” On paper this sounds fine, but when our student government is paying to send its own members to a conference that has an event schedule with things like a book signing for “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, the Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor” and “Obama’s Four Horsemen: the Disasters Unleashed by Obama’s Re-election,” I’m not convinced of the trip’s value for improving student life or the quality of education.
Now, to be fair, I want to give the representatives who are actually going on the trip a chance to explain its value. In their application for funding for a trip to CPAC, ASM representatives must describe how they would bring back the knowledge they gain to UW students. According to documents obtained in an open records request by Austin Helmke of College Democrats, one representative answered, “I will be able to effectively campaign, stand up for and believe in my political affiliation,” and “I would love the opportunity to become increasingly involved in the College Republicans club after having essential equipping experiences I would have at CPAC.” I don’t see how improving your ability to believe in your political affiliations, which is a ridiculous thing to learn how to do, helps the rest of the student body — but I certainly see how it could help the students going.
ASM has pointed out they also are sending members to the United States Student Association’s Legislative Conference, saying it is similar to CPAC, but more liberal. This is essentially arguing USSA is the liberal equivalent to CPAC and that they didn’t hear any complaints about using segregated fees for that conference.
Checking out the USSA “about us” page, it just doesn’t seem like an equivalent event when compared to the clearly stated conservative agenda of CPAC. The USSA website says they are the “largest, and most inclusive national student-led organization, [which] develops current and future leaders and amplifies the student voice at the local, state and national levels by mobilizing grassroots power to win concrete victories on student issues.”
Now that mission statement sounds like it is clearly aligned with ASM’s stated goals. Also, it doesn’t seem to have an ideological position other than empowering students. So, I’m not buying the deflection of the issue with USSA. It is a conference with the goal of improving student power, not something I see much problem with.
The issue remains that ASM sending its own people to CPAC looks more like individuals looking to mingle with conservative political leaders and less like something that has the ability to benefit the student body as a whole. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a panel on “How to Get a Job in Politics” will really help the student body. Yeah, that must be it.
John Waters ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.