University of Wisconsin student organizations spoke out against the student government’s decision to use segregated fees to fund a student trip to a conservative political conference at an open forum Wednesday evening.
The Conservative Political Action Conference is a national conference held in March in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American Conservative Union. The conference will feature Republican speakers including Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, according to the conference website.
The Associated Students of Madison will reimburse several students attending the event for hotel and airfare costs and CPAC registration fees. The students attending will be representing various groups and committees within ASM.
ASM heard from a variety of leaders of College Democrats of Madison as well as the Vice Chair of Young Progressives. Both organizations argued this funding violated ASM’s mission and the Wisconsin Idea, while ASM committee members defended their decision to support students’ professional development.
“ASM supports a variety of organizations. We support students with ideas across the spectrum,” Rep. Jamie Wheeler said.
College Democrats Chair Chris Hoffman said ASM leaders refused College Democrats Vice Chair Austin Helmke’s open records request for emails relating to ASM members attending the conference, claiming “I don’t believe [this] warrants compliance.”
Hoffman criticized ASM leadership in responding to and making false claims in these emails.
“If this is indeed constitutional, let’s find out the details. Let the whole student body know what you are doing,” Hoffman said. “Funding a trip to CPAC is unconstitutional via its violation of ASM’s mission and discrimination clause of not only ASM, but UW and the State of Wisconsin.”
Opponents stressed this particular funding is supporting a group that blatantly gives money to Republican interests.
Young Progressives Vice Chair Sean Hoey pointed out the ACU is allowed to get involved with political campaigning and raised concern funding may support Republican candidate lobbying through its political intent.
ASM Vice Chair Maria Giannopoulos said ACU supports student education, and the money contributed for the conference will be designated to its mission to provide such education.
Giannopoulos also directed attention to the United States Student Association’s Legislative Conference- a three day training that takes place in D.C. on the same weekend as CPAC. The conference is similar to CPAC but with a more liberal agenda, and ASM will send student representatives there as well.
Giannopoulos said part of the organization can be involved in political campaigning, but again, is committed to educating students and not furthering a political agenda. She said ASM heard fewer concerns over their decision to use student segregated fees to fund this conference.
“We’re sending people to CPAC because it is a marketplace of ideas. It trains people who might have a different viewpoint,” Giannopoulos said, clarifying USSA has the same financial backing as CPAC.
CPAC’s social agenda was also brought to the floor as a concern. LGBT Caucus Chair of College Democrats Jacob Hollnagel spoke to the 2012 incident in which the conference banned GOProud, a conservative student organization for LGBTQ students, from the conference without explanation. He said since then, there has been no LGBTQ involvement in CPAC.
Hollnagel said UW students deserve to have their segregated fees spent in a much more respectful way and ASM funding of CPAC violates their constitution.
“Article IV, section I of the ASM Constitution states that ASM shall not discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation,” Hollnagel referenced. “ASM funds paying for registration to CPAC would violate that article and its spirit.”