Senior Staff Writer Sam Sutton contributed to this story.
The Student Assembly Elections Commission handed down a two-day suspension of campaign activities to presidential candidate, and current SA vice president, Kaveh Sadeghian ’12 Monday night.
Sadeghian is alleged to have offered as much as $6,443 to alleviate the financial woes of the Publications Council in the event of his election. The funds would be distributed through the SA’s Executive Discretionary account.
In emails describing the exchange, Pub Council Chairwoman Meredith Howard ’11 urged members to vote in Thursday’s election and offered her support of Sadeghian’s candidacy.
“I suppose this is my personal endorsement,” Howard said in an internal email sent to Pub Council members. “In my talk with him Friday, Kaveh said he would be able to help us out with the use of the SA Presidential discretionary fund over the summer (if he wins, obviously).”
The Flat Hat is a member of the Pub Council and received the email directly from Howard.
According to Elections Commission chairman Ryan Ruzic J.D. ’11, Sadeghian will be removed from sanctions four hours after the polls open on Thursday, effectively shutting down the campaign in the run-up to election day. The suspension also applies to Sadeghian’s running mate, SA Secretary of Student Life Molly Bulman ’12.
“I immediately made an appeal to the Elections Commission based on the allegations I have been accused of tonight,” Sadeghian said in a statement. “The content of the conversation and the issues at hand were strictly related to my role as a Vice President and were not meant to serve any political purpose. I just wanted to provide informed advice on any remaining options the publications council had for funding. I have never in my capacity as a vice president of the Student Assembly or as candidate for president promised to grant funding in exchange for votes.”
Sadeghian’s appeal was received Monday night. The Review Board of the Elections Commission scheduled a meeting for 6:45 a.m. Tuesday morning to review his appeal. Online updates will be available as this story develops.
“If we are going to hold a hearing our goal is to do it at some point,” Chairman of the Elections Review Board John Michael King ’11 said. “Obviously, because of the sanctions, we want to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Sadeghian’s appeal will focus on the allegations stated in two emails written by Howard and sent to the Publications Council. In these emails, Howard reiterated the implication that, if elected, Sadeghian would secure funds for the Pub Council from the SA presidential discretionary fund. Howard later explained these statements.
“That’s my language,” Howard said. “That’s my thinking that he would be best for the council. My own thinking. And unfortunately, I just used poor political vocabulary and ignorantly wrote those words. He said no such thing which promised anything.”
The conversation between Howard and Sadeghian occurred March 18, in which Howard sought out Sadeghian’s advice in how to secure funding for the new Business Law Review publication, a total of $6,443 not allocated in the Pub Council budget.
“I was making sure that things aren’t handicapped,” Sadeghian said. “You need an operating budget and you need something to function. It doesn’t matter what organization you are. If there is a need for funds, there is a need for funds, and it comes down to that. I have options for what they would be and it was completely not relevant to the campaign.”
In the conversation, Sadeghian laid out several options for receiving funding. The options included an appeal to the Student Bar Association, an appeal to the Student Assembly reserves through the Senate, and, finally, a petition to use funds from the SA presidential discretionary fund allocated to the next SA president. This fund amounts to $10,000 total.
“I never said if you vote for me you will get money for this,” Sadeghian said. “It was a possibility [for funding] just as SBA is a possibility, just as student reserves are a possibility. Whoever would be able to give it to you, it is up to their discretion.”
Howard stated that in order to receive the funding the Pub Council is looking for, she would petition to use the SA presidential discretionary fund regardless of the Thursday election results.
“I regret that I did not include in my wording in those emails that this wouldn’t just be voting for Kaveh, it would be voting for [David] Alpert and we would still petition him whatever happens,” Howard said.
While the content of the conversation remains disputed, and no evidence can be directly obtained, the Elections Committee found the information in both emails to be actionable of a violation of the “Bribery of a Voter” rule.
“It is undisputed that two emails in a row contained language that not hinted, but indeed said, that Kaveh had agreed to provide thousands of dollars to publication council for this specific allocation, if elected,” the Election Commission Report stated, issued Monday night.
While the Commission found that the “Bribery of a Voter” rule was violated, the evidence of intent to break this rule was found to be insufficient.
“It seemed to us that is was not a purposeful violation,” Ruzic said.
In response to the violation, the Election Commission has issued a two-day suspension of Sadeghian’s campaign, which extends to his running mate Bulman as well. This suspension includes the suspension of all active campaigning from noon, Tuesday through noon, Thursday, four hours after polls open.
“It cannot be denied that Kaveh through his promise of monetary aid gained a powerful and illegitimate advantage over his opponent,” the Commission report stated. “It was the goal of the Election Commission to craft a result that would both eliminate this illegitimate advantage yet not end the candidacy based on the mistake alone.”
Ruzic was first alerted about a possible violation by SA Sen. Noah Kim ’13, who notified Ruzic prior to the SA debate that the Pub Council may have been endorsing a candidate.
“I had heard that Meredith Howard was endorsing Kaveh,” Kim said. “I was kind of curious about what was happening, and if that influences their funding … I was coming at it through my position as Finance Chair.”
Kim actively supports Sadeghian’s opponent David Alpert’s ’13 candidacy.
“I didn’t consult David and Tam, as I didn’t see it pertaining to the campaign,” he said. “I’m aware that people are taking this the wrong way … for people to think I would do things like that is disappointing to me.”
Ruzic contacted Howard, notifying her that it would be inappropriate for the Pub Council to actively endorse a candidate. It was not until after Ruzic received multiple complaints in regards to Howard’s subsequent emails that an official investigation from the Commission began.
Alpert stated that his campaign was in no way involved in any actions that led to the investigation or sanctions from the Student Assembly Election Commission.
“My campaign was not involved in this in any way,” Alpert said in a statement to The Flat Hat. “We did not know about the charges against Kaveh until after the case was decided. We don’t want to win that way – we want to win based on our strong record and hard work.”
Check back with Flathatnews.com for more on this developing story