Turning Point USA—a national conservative organization with chapters on college campuses across the country—operates with the intent of convincing millennials the conservative message and goals are right for their community.
And this spring, this persuasion was focused on UW-Madison’s student government elections, as the group was in contact with and provided campaign materials for conservative candidates running for positions in the Associated Students of Madison.
As a slate dubbed the Badger Freedom Caucus, freshman Maxwell Goldfarb and junior Dylan Resch both said they campaigned with small flyers and yard signs designed and purchased by Turning Point.
According to Student Election Committee Chair Kate Wehrman, ASM has no rules related to Political Action Committees and did not receive any complaints regarding these events.
Goldfarb said Turning Point USA’s Campus Leadership Project emailed him about a month before Associated Student of Madison’s spring elections, about a week after his campaign had started.
“I don’t think I had a formal endorsement, but I’ve definitely been in contact with them,” Goldfarb said. “They were just like, ‘We really appreciate what you’re doing and would love to support you in any capacity that we can.’”
Both students won their election by large margins. Resch got the second highest amount of votes out of the 29 student council seats, and Goldfarb finished second out of four candidates elected to the Student Services Finance Committee.
The newly elected representatives said they decided to run after being disappointed with decisions made by the current session of the Associated Student of Madison, largely comprised of members from the progressive BlindSide organization.
“I watched through that year all the bills they passed, the initiatives they were going for, their response to the election and I was kind of disappointed with how student council handled things,” said Resch. “In my opinion it was time for conservative voices to be put on student council. It’s clearly not the majority but if we're going to call student council representative of the students, there need to be different opinions on council to represent the different opinions of the student populous.”
The Badger Freedom Caucus started when the leader of UW-Madison's Turning Point chapter reached out to other conservative group on campus with the idea, according to Jake Lubenow, chair of College Republicans.
“Believe it or not it's harder to get conservative students to want to be involved in ASM than you’d think,” said Lubenow. “We’ve found that it's not that hard to get people elected, it’s much harder to get them to run.”
According to Lubenow, “Badger Freedom Caucus is the brainchild of Turning Point,” and Resch said that a Turning Point representative proposed the caucus’s logo.
After being approached by Turning Point members, Lubenow and other College Republicans sought out candidates to run and then referred them to the Turning Point organization.
“I basically said, ‘I know Turning Point has this mission and I know their chapter is working here on campus to do that. Do you want me to connect you?’” Lubenow said.” He said he then connected them with UW-Madison’s chapter president, Justin Lemke, and sent an email to Turning Point’s midwest office.
However, Lemke denied any connection to the caucus or campaign efforts. He further said that he had not even spoken to College Republicans since his freshman year, and only then with an educational question. According to Lemke, Turning Point USA’s status as a nonprofit prevents them from supporting any candidate on any level but the national chapter does have programs that run without connection to campus chapters.
While Turning Point reached out to Goldfarb, Resch contacted the organization. Both said the organization supported their conservative ideologies and ideas for campus. Neither Goldfarb nor Resch named their contact from the national organization, but an anonymous source said it was Bobby McNiely, who is a part of Turning Point’s Campus Leadership Project.
“I think it’s really important that we have organizations that support fiscally responsible candidates,” said Goldfarb.
Earlier this year, Turning Point reportedly “quietly funded” The Ohio State University’s student government elections, according to the school’s newspaper, The Lantern. They reported that Turning Point was doing this for campaigns across the U.S.
For conservatives on campus this is a victory, according to Lubenow. Goldfarb said that as candidate on SSFC he hopes to reign in spending and make fiscally conservative decisions and Resch said that he hopes to increase student engagement in elections.
“ASM’s council is going to be a lot more moderate next year,” Lubenow said. “Council is just not as activist motivated. It was a success for us, it was a success in general for conservatives on campus.”