Today's Badger Herald displays yet another example of the decade-long debate over how student segregated fees should be appropriated by the Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison's student government.
Associated Free Thinkers Ensuring Responsibility received $6,500 in segregated fees through an operations grant from the Associated Students of Madison last year. On March 25, ASM Finance Committee Chair Matt Beemsterboer filed an advertising order on behalf of AFTER for three full-page ads in The Badger Herald urging students to vote "no" on a referendum to reaffirm the University of Wisconsin's status as a member of United Council.
To make that clear: The chair of the finance committee that appropriated the funds is also the chair of the organization that was receiving them.
I talked to Beemsterboer, who reasoned that most people on the finance committee are tied to student organizations that receive ASM funds, and that many of them get involved in student government to advocate for their orgs.
Legally, he said, his group is allowed to use public money to fund the "Vote No" campaign because it is on a referendum, and not in support of a candidate. In contrast, he said, the College Democrats or College Republicans (neither of whom have applied for public money in recent years) would not be able to use seg fees in political campaigns.
Another recent referendum campaign that was partially financed by seg fees was last year's "Nat Up" drive to approve the construction of a new gym on campus. It was ultimately defeated by the opposition "No New Seg Fees" campaign.
However, according to the Herald, a UW System spokesperson did not draw the same distinction between referendum campaigns and ones involving candidates.
UW System policies regulate political campaign activities, for which the use of state funds is prohibited.
"Political campaign activity includes not only … political action committees, but also advocating a particular position on a referendum," a UW System statement said.
It's a tricky issue. The truth is that much of the money appropriated to student groups is used for political purposes, whether the money is spent directly on a campaign or not.