Public university violated federal election laws in promoting rally for Dem congressman, Bill Clinton, says lawyer
Stony Brook University’s Student Affairs office sent out an email to all students promoting a rally for congressional candidate Tim Bishop.
The email says Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and President Bill Clinton will also be in attendance.
University policy explicitly prohibits the school from using school resources, including its listserv, to endorse political candidates.
A public university in New York violated federal election laws by sending out an email promoting a campaign rally for Democratic congressional incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.) and former-President Bill Clinton, an elections lawyer told Campus Reform on Tuesday.
The email, obtained by Campus Reform, went out to the entire student body urging them to sign up for the Wednesday event using their school-issued email addresses. It was “[p]aid for by the New York Democratic Committee,” according to its signature, and also appears to violate the school’s long-standing policy against using resources to aid political candidates or causes, according to the school’s College Republican chapter.
Cleta Mitchell, a political law attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP, examined the email and recommended the College Republicans group file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against both the university and Bishop’s campaign.
“They are in violation of this section of the law because they are not supposed to show favoritism under the federal campaign finance laws,” Mitchell said.
Furthermore Mitchell said Bishop’s campaign could also be culpable for receiving an illegal contribution from the university.
Meanwhile, College Republicans at Stony Brook also expressed outrage at the email, which they say represents just the latest episode of discrimination in which Democratic candidates receive support, while Republican activities are denied the same services, or suppressed.
“This is maddening,” SUNY Stony Brook College Republicans President Laura Doukas told Campus Reform on Monday.
“Universities have no place promoting campaign events for an incumbent through official communications channels while ignoring the challenger,” added David Laska, Director of Communications for the New York Republican State Committee.
Doukas and other College Republicans point to Stony Brook’s official policy which outlaws the use of “IT Systems in a way that suggests University endorsement of any political candidate or ballot initiative” and an email sent by SUNY sent out in May reminding schools they may not “take or refuse any action that aids hinders a candidate.”
“Neither the University, nor its representatives acting in an official capacity, may take or refuse any action or make any statement that aids or hinders a candidate,” the letter says. “[S]tate employees may not use State resources (including SUNY letterhead, computers, e-mail and telephones) for partisan political purposes.”
Campus Reform reached out to Stony Brook administrators who declined comment, stating only that they could not comment as it was “a student event, not a University event.”
The email urging students to sign up for the rally seemed unusual in that other emails from the school’s Student Affairs office obtained by Campus Reform generally list multiple events together.
College Republicans also alleged that when they have attempted to host a number of conservative speakers and Republican candidates the school has met them with resistance.
For example, when Stony Brook’s College Republicans hosted Lee Zeldin, Bishop's Republican opponent, in September along with Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), the university did not offer to send out a school-wide email for the event, said Doukas
In fact, Doukas said her student organization faced opposition from the school while trying to host the event—and it wasn’t the first time, either.
“We didn’t receive any publicity for [the event],” Doukas, president of Stony Brook’s College Republicans, told Campus Reform in an interview. “They wouldn’t give us a room because apparently it was too late of notice.”
Doukas said that since Schock was a late addition—he confirmed a week prior to the event—she could understand the university's inability to get a room with proper security in time.
Clinton did not confirm that he would be at the rally until Monday, two days before the campaign event.
Stony Brook’s College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom chapter have hosted John Stossel and Dinesh D’Souza in the past, and according to Doukas, university officials threatened to cancel both events two weeks prior as the speakers were “controversial” in nature.
The school declined to comment on those allegations.
Bishop, 64, is being challenged for his seat by the 34-year-old state senator in a rematch of the 2008 election. Real Clear Politics has Bishop polling 10 points ahead of Zeldin.
Bishop’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform.
UPDATE: After publication, Stony Brook's media relations officer, Lauren Sheprow, released a statement to Campus Reform.
"For the record, the rally to be held Wednesday evening is a student initiated and sponsored event and the office of Student Life used standard communication methods afforded to any approved clubs that requests it," Sheprow said. "The University appreciates its obligation to make facilities available on a bi-partisan basis."
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn