Undergraduate Student Government presidential and vice presidential candidates Austin Dunn and Morgan Monahan face a monetary fine for the creation of a Facebook group about their candidacy before the official campaign period, in what the USG Judicial Council called a "willful violation" of Elections Code. The fine was issued in a unanimous decision by the council after a hearing on Tuesday.
The fine, which amounts to two-thirds of the candidates' total campaign reimbursement, is paired with two additional strikes on the campaign, leaving Austin/Morgan with four total. Any campaign that reaches nine strikes is disqualified.
The total dollar amount of the new monetary punishment levied on the campaign is $1,000. This amounts to two-thirds of the $1,500 allotted to each ticket under USG Elections Code.
Dunn said in an interview with Annenberg Media on Monday that he wanted to move forward.
"I kind of understand both ends of the spectrum with regards to the ticket treated unfairly," Dunn said, "and Morgan and I would never want any of the other two to feel like we have an unfair advantage. But in our opinion, the reality of the situation is we are now placed at an even more unfair advantage with regards to the mistake because we've kind of served punishments for it times four, if that makes sense. So overall, we're just doing our best to move forward."
Tuesday's hearing was the result of an appeal by the Rachel Udabe and Rebecca Harbeck campaign and Daniel Million and Timothy Vorhoff campaign. These candidates argued before the council that the USG Elections Commission's previous sanction of the Austin/Morgan campaign, which was banned from social media campaigning for 48 hours last week, was insufficient.
The Judicial Council agreed, saying that the commission failed to take into account the fact that Dunn, the current USG vice president, and Monahan were aware that they were breaking Elections Code. Additionally, it wrote, the campaign did not report the violation immediately to the Elections Commission, violating another requirement of the code.
"The Respondents transgressed despite full cognizance of the Code and its limitations," the council wrote in its unanimous opinion.
The secret Facebook group created by the Austin/Morgan campaign on the morning of Jan. 25 grew to 364 members by 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 26, according to screenshots provided in the hearing. Because the group was created about 32 hours before the official campaign period began and included students other than five core campaign leaders, it constituted unlawful social media campaigning.
The Rachel/Rebecca and Million/Vorhoff campaigns filed complaints against Austin/Morgan on Friday, Jan. 27, alleging that the violation gave their opponents an unfair advantage. The Judicial Council said in its opinion that the roughly 32-hour head start was "equivalent to approximately 10 percent of the total time available to candidates for campaigning."
"This is clearly not a clean campaign, and [Austin and Morgan] had no intent to run a clean campaign, because rhetoric like 'secret' was used, rhetoric was like 'add your friends.' On the page it was all about strategizing, and this was clearly a way they were trying to gain an advantage a few days beforehand, and that is why we believe that there should be sanctions and they should be harsh," Udabe said.
Dunn said that the creation of the Facebook group mirrored what occurred when he worked on his successful campaign with Edwin Saucedo last year and the successful Rini Sampath and Jordan Fowler campaign of 2015.
"The only way I know how to run a campaign is how I was taught, how I learned," Dunn said. "I learned how to run a campaign last year for Edwin because Edwin learned from Rini/Jordan previously."
Dunn said during the hearing that "both the Edwin/Austin and Rini/Jordan campaigns had launch parties. And you can't hold a launch party without having had told people" about the campaign ahead of time.
But Dunn said that the Rini/Jordan campaign's launch party "wasn't really disputed" because its opponent, the campaign of Providence Ilisevich and Ehren Elder, held one too.
"It was a mutual breaking of the rules. That is not necessarily— that in no way makes it right. But that is what I knew," he said.
Dunn also said during the hearing that he and Monahan were aware that what they did violated the elections code.
"We got carried away. We knew we were breaking the rules, we were very forthcoming with that," Dunn said.
"It was an oversight of the code, and we should have looked at it more closely," he continued. "But we think you guys are kind of discounting our effort. We spent a really long time planning our campaign and trying to get it, and we wanted it to be in good faith. I'll just keep it short: We accepted what we did and we'll do whatever you guys see fit. We're really sorry."
The campaigns disagreed during the hearing about the severity of what the Austin/Morgan campaign had done. Dunn said that the members of the unlawful Facebook group "were going to like our page anyway."
"The 364 people in that group were gonna click Like on our page whether we invited them the day before or the day of," he said. "But I in no way think that starting this a day or 36 hours earlier takes away from all the effort that's been put in and from the experience that we have, from the work that is being put in now, and moving forward."
"Damage has been done," Million said. "And our campaign team feels as though these individuals should be disqualified from the race. I personally feel as though these actions create an atmosphere in the organization which makes it seem as though breaking the rules is just another tradition."
While Million recommended disqualification, Udabe suggested the Austin/Morgan campaign receive four additional strikes and be barred from campaigning on social media for another 48-hour period.
Much of the conversation during the hearing centered on integrity. Both Rachel/Rebecca and Million/Vorhoff argued that as a current leader in USG, Dunn set a bad precedent for the organization and sent the wrong signal to the student body.
"People will never follow the rules if they know they can get off with one strike or there is no actual punishment," Harbeck said, "and that disincentivizes people from playing the game fairly because if one person cheats, then everyone cheats, and there's no point in having rules.
"For a ticket that has never been in USG, this is honestly really disheartening for us because we thought that our student leaders wouldn't think that they were above the rules."
In its unanimous opinion, the Judicial Council said that campaigns and elections are "the cornerstones of our democratic student government" and that violations of election rules "cannot go without consequence."
Voting begins after midnight on Tuesday, Feb. 7 and runs through Thursday.
International Editor Razzan Nakhlawi and Staff Reporter Owen Slyman contributed to this report.
This article was updated at 10:15 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2017 to clarify the dollar amount of the fine imposed on the Austin/Morgan campaign and include comments from Dunn about launch parties.
This article was updated at 3:20 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2017 with an additional comment from Dunn.