In many cases, the Associated Students of Madison is the target of undue criticism, even from us. But there's no doubt the recent actions of a few high-profile ASM members warrant a critical eye.
Despite last night's student judiciary ruling in favor of the Associated Free Thinkers Ensuring Responsibility, a registered student organization headed by prominent figures in the ASM community, the recent controversies surrounding the group give cause for concern. When AFTER ran ads in The Badger Herald urging the student body to vote against a spring election referendum, its leaders knew they couldn't use student segregated fees to pay for the transaction—a move that undoubtably requires heavy restitution.
AFTER's primary contact person, Matt Beemsterboer, was repeatedly called to defend the group's exploits during a student judiciary hearing Sunday. Aside from creating the ad and purchasing a spot in the Herald, Beemsterboer also chairs the Finance Committee that awards operations grant money to student organizations like AFTER.
While Beemsterboer denied the group intended to pay for the ads with segregated fees, he never specified where the money would have come from otherwise. When asked why the ad included the ASM logo and disclaimer—which typically indicate it is being paid for through segregated fee funding—Beemsterboer said he wanted interested students to contact the group through ASM. To anyone who has attempted to navigate ASM's dysfunctional website, his response hardly holds water.
Just one day after a former ASM student council representative filed a complaint against the group, AFTER was scheduled to present its 2011-'12 operations grant request to the Finance Committee. Curiously, the group chose not to present the request, which indicated AFTER had spent all $4,056 of its current budget, including money designated for advertising in the Herald. During the student judiciary hearing, however, Beemsterboer told the panel the group hadn't spent any money at all.
We know members of ASM hatch shady backroom plans all the time. The fact that former ASM chair Kurt Gosselin made the trip back to Madison to defend his AFTER friends is a statement in itself. And we also realize AFTER is not the first group of individuals who attempted to abuse segregated fees.
Carl Fergus, a member of AFTER, accused last spring's political slate Madison People Organizing for Wisconsin Education Rights of also abusing segregated fees for campaign purposes in a recent blog post. Unfortunately, identifying one group's misconduct doesn't excuse your own.
But to say the very least, AFTER's leaders know better. Its members are more familiar with ASM rules and regulations than anyone on campus, and it's obvious to us they tried to beat a system they helped create.
When it comes to segregated fees, ASM needs to hold groups like AFTER more accountable. As leaders in student government, AFTER's members were supposed to protect our dollars, not take advantage of them for more power on the ballot.
Regardless of the judiciary's ruling, overwhelming evidence against AFTER calls for someone to take responsibility.
Either Beemsterboer lied to the judiciary when he claimed AFTER hasn't spent any of its funds, or he lied on AFTER's operations grant application that his Finance Committee is responsible for managing.
Before he graduates, Beemsterboer should step down from his role as Finance Committee chair. We can't have leaders in student government who exploit student money for political power. It would be a symbolic step in the right direction, and hopefully it would deter individuals from devious plots in the future.