Monday, the 2003 Student Assembly (S.A.) election controversy escalated to new heights. An email undersigned by four Student Activities Funding Commission Leaders (SAFC) was sent to over 600 student organizations to which the non-partisan SAFC allocates funds, encouraging the organizations to endorse certain S.A. candidates backed by the Cornell Democrats.
Four S.A. candidates endorsed by the Cornell Democrats appeared as cosigners of the email: S.A. Vice President of Finance Stuti Mandala ’04, S.A. Vice President for Internal Operations Josh Bronstein ’04, SAFC Vice Chair of Internal Operations Ben Lowe ’04 and Former SAFC Chair of Finance Jenn Hoos ’04.
However, according to Ari Epstein ’04, the current S.A. liaison to the SAFC and a member of the Cornell Democrats, “it is not clear, to me at least, whether Josh, Ben, and/or Jenn were aware that Stuti had affixed their names to the email.”
Mandala could not be reached last night for comment.
The e-mail asked the leaders of the student organizations to “please take a minute and direct your membership to the following web site, www.brainarrow.com/vote.html, that allows you to vote and lists the candidates we feel are most in favor of increased funding available for student organizations.”
Lisa Broadnax ’04 and Christopher Crump ’04, co-chairs of the SAFC, quickly responded with a an apology e-mail addressed to Cornell undergraduates.
“The SAFC and its leadership are appalled at the very unethical, and probably illegal, actions taken by these individuals, and roundly condemn the liberties taken in our name,” the e-mail stated.
On behalf of the SAFC, Broadnax and Crump went on to explain that the SAFC is completely uncommitted to partisan campus elections, and encouraged students to “vote for whatever person or persons you deem fit.”
According to Erica Kagan ’05, the current LGBTQ liason to the S.A. and a member of the Cornell Democrats, the e-mail is an “issue that is being handled internally according to guidelines; so it’s not really an issue.”
The link featured in the e-mail took students to the S.A. voting web site with a pop-up add for the Cornell Democrats’ candidates. The pop-up was created by the online company Brainarrow.com, run by President and CEO Jeffrey Akavan, a relative of Mike Akavan ’05, current President of the Cornell Democrats, who refused to comment on exactly what the relationship between the two is.
Students for Students’ candidate for Student Trustee Gayraud Townsend ’03 estimated that a pop-up add like the one featured by the Cornell Democrats costs over a thousand dollars to maintain. According to Townsend, the pop-up add featured by the link clearly violates spending limits for S.A. candidates, 100 dollars for Student Trustee and 50 dollars for all other offices.
“This stuff has been going on for years,” Townsend commented. “But this time it has just gone too far.”
According to Kagan, however, the website was much less expensive than Townsend estimated.
“The website is free to set up initially. It costs five cents a hit once it’s running. There were approximately 400 hits, which comes to about one dollar a candidate,” she said. She explained that the Democrats could have set up the website for free if they had gone through the University, but they “chose to do it externally to keep it fair so we’d be paying a fair market value.”
Current S.A. member Nick Linder ’03, who is running for re-election with Students for Students for the College of Arts and Sciences, explained his distress when reading the e-mail.
“Personally I’m just shocked and disappointed. I just couldn’t believe the abuse of power,” Linder said.
Epstein also expressed disappointment in the actions taken by the candidates.
“These members of the S.A. intentionally used their offices to promote themselves and their tickets over others who did not have access to the SAFC list-serve. In my opinion this is a tremendous breach of ethics, if not a more serious violation,” Epstein said.
Additionally, the current S.A. election has witnessed a barrage of intense campaign tactics, including phone calls made to students at their home residences on behalf of candidates and list-serve abuse made by both the Cornell Democrats and Students for Students.
At the end of each campaign e-mail, usually listing the names of the candidates from a particular slate, is the promissory note, “This will be the last e-mail you will receive from this list.”
Many students are responding negatively to the intense campaign tactics and have even gone so far as to file complaints with the Cornell University Police.
The colorful quarter cards also seem to be appearing in endless quantities around the campus, and in addition to endorsing specific tickets, these flyers have turned to bashing the opposition. Over 100 signs stating “Say no to Jay” are hanging on the walls of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), refering to S.A. candidate Jason Jendrewski ’05 who is running for ILR representative.
“We know that Students for Students candidates negatively campaigned against our candidates, namely Bronstein, Lowe, and Pidatala, but none of the Dems-endorsed candidate campaigned negatively at all against Students for Students. There were a lot of students on campus and even alumns who were upset by the SFS proposal to cater Slope Day,” Kagan said.
According to Townsend, the problem with the S.A. elections system is there are no checks and balances, resulting in uncontrollable copying and spending by the candidates.
“The first thing that needs to be done is making sure students are represented properly by going to the bottom of these matters and making sure elections are fair,” Townsend stated.
Archived article by Sarah Workman