The Daily Gamecock

Student government candidates face campaign accusations

<p>Taken January 18, 2016</p>
Taken January 18, 2016

Across the country and across the USC campus, election season is about to kick into high gear. On Tuesday, student government candidates for the 2016-2017 academic year will have their mandatory candidate meeting, after which they will be allowed to campaign in earnest.

Several candidates have been accused of violating sections of the campaigning codes that refer to premature publicity and social media. The Elections Commission has filed official charges. Two of the five accused candidates, third-year sociology student Cory Alpert and third-year finance student Michael Parks, both running for student body president, have responded to The Daily Gamecock's requests for comment.

Parks has so far been reported in relation to a Facebook post announcing his candidacy. In an email, he expressed his excitement for the campaign and his respect for the election codes.

"My Facebook post was not an attempt to gain an unfair advantage on the field, but more of an announcement of my own filing as a candidate to my own Facebook friends," Parks said. "It wasn't an attempt to promote my candidacy, an official campaign website or social media page, simply an expression of an intention to chase a dream."

The issue of social media announcements is not specifically dealt with in the student government campaign codes. The section on electronic communications references only phone calls, text messages and web pages sponsored by the university.

Alpert is facing three separate charges: distributing campaign materials before the official candidate meeting, campaigning explicitly for the purpose of getting votes and employing copyrighted or trademarked materials.

The student government campaign codes state that campaign materials may not be distributed before the official candidates' meeting and that candidates can try to enlist students to their campaign staff, but cannot "campaign for the explicit purpose of acquiring votes" before the candidates' meeting.

Sources report that complaints have been filed to the Elections Commission against Alpert for prematurely launching the link to his campaign website. The website was available briefly last week and was made unavailable Tuesday, but not before several people filed complaints.

Alpert says that the website, while temporarily available, was not actively publicized by anyone on his campaign staff. It was available by an Internet search of Alpert's name.

"The link that had been distributed was only made available to student campaign staff members and other personal friends, none of whom attend the University of South Carolina," he said.

In reference to the charge of campaigning solely for the purpose of attaining votes, Alpert maintains that the website was not distributed by his campaign staff, so "no communication on the website could have been interpreted as purposed for acquiring votes." He also denied any use of copyrighted or trademarked materials.

Some student organizations received emails from Alpert's campaign expressing his interest in meeting with them to discuss the future of the campus. In response to a question of whether this violates campaign codes, Alpert replied that his campaign had the approval of Elections Commissioner Alexandra Badgett to reach out to organizations in this way.

Third-year public health student Cynthia Beavin is uncomfortable with the amount of information Alpert has publicized about his campaign even before filing for candidacy was open.

"I have never spoken to Cory, but I've known almost all of his campaign plans for months because he hasn't really been keeping it quiet," she said in an email. "I don't think someone like me, who has never been approached by Cory, should have knowledge of all this information about his campaign before he's allowed to launch it," she said. 

The Elections Commission issued an email advising candidates to refrain from announcing their candidacy on social media until after the official candidates' meeting Tuesday.

Student Body Vice President and third-year English student Lee Goble declined to make an official statement on behalf of student government because he is also a candidate for student body president.

"[W]e have an incredibly hard working and dedicated Elections Commission, led by an outstanding Commissioner," Goble said in an email. "They have done an excellent job at completing their duties thus far, and I have full trust that they will do the same throughout the whole process of elections."

All of the accused candidates will have the opportunity to appeal the charges against them, and Alpert has already begun the process of filing his appeal. It is unknown when the appeals will be heard and decided.

News Editor Mary Ramsey contributed to reporting in this article.