Your money at work or waste?

Kelly Tyko

When Jeb Bush was running for reelection last year, the FAU College Republicans worked hard to back him up.

They spent $661 for wooden stakes for campaign signs. Club members attended Republican fundraising dinners, spending between $100 to $250 a plate.

They also ordered 100 Jeb Bush t-shirts for $1,226 — even though they had only 50 members.

Six months after Bush celebrated his victory, the club is under investigation.

Ancel Pratt, student body vice president, is taking a closer look into the club’s finances after hearing rumors that the club has mismanaged its $4,000 budget.

For now, Pratt says he’ll “give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

Digging into deep pockets

Nick Kalman likes to say politics is in his blood. He’s the president of the College Republicans and the senate speaker pro-tempore at the Boca Raton campus. He recently got press coverage for writing a resolution proclaiming student support for former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan’s bid for the FAU presidency.

“I don’t want to be the second George W. Bush Jr. or the next John McCain, I want to be the first Nick Kalman,” he told the UP in October.

He might be on the right track. He says he’s the first senate speaker to serve two terms.

But his popularity in the senate might be running out. In meetings, fellow senators have accused the College Republicans of misspending Student Government money, specifically pointing to Kalman.

They say Kalman has been spending A&S fees to help fund Republican campaigns. If that’s the case, it’s not a “legitimate expense,” says Dean of Student Affairs Leslie Bates.

“I would be totally against that,” Bates said of a student club donating money for political causes. “It is in violation of not only university policy, but also state policy. I don’t believe you can use A&S fees or state funds to benefit one person. It has to be a return for services rendered.”

The dean has state law to back him up.

Florida Statute 240.235 explains how Activity & Service fees should be spent. Much like a tax, the fee funds SG’s annual budget, totaling $5.8 million this year. Students pay the $10 fee for every credit hour they take, making elected student officials in charge of the purse strings.

“Funds may not be expended to support in whole or in part a candidate for political office,” the statute reads, “nor for contribution to political activity directly seeking to affect the passage, defeat, or status of legislation except as provided by Florida Law.”

Kalman’s club has its own exception, however.

Playing with the rules

Drafted in 1994, when the club was formed, the College Republican constitution says “the club should be responsible to the rules and regulations determined by Florida Atlantic University; but moreover, the club’s constitution and by-laws.”

One of the goals spelled out in the document is “to provide through its organization, a means to encourage participation in the activities of the Republican Party.”

For Kalman, then, it’s legit that the club bought the thousands of stakes in September and later posted signs on them.

“This is not supporting any particular campaign,” Kalman says of the stakes. “This is supporting general Republicans. The stakes were put up all around FAU — it wasn’t a contribution to a party or any campaign.”

In October, the club wanted to double its campaign efforts. It submitted a $1,226 invoice for 100 campaign t-shirts.

But university officials stopped the order. Not because of the shirts – which had “Jeb” and “Brogan” printed on them – but because of whom they had to send the check to.

The invoice was drafted on the letterhead of a private Miami-based company called Jebwear, which during last year’s election season sold t-shirts and teddy bears with the governor’s name on them. But attached to it was a one-sentence note asking that the check be cut to the Republican Party of Palm Beach County.

Kalman explains: “None of that [money] was going to a political campaign. It was going to Jebwear. It’s not a part of the campaign, it’s a separate corporation.”

But had the club received the shirts, couldn’t wearing them be considered campaigning?

“Yes, it’s a form of campaigning,” Kalman said, “but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t see a problem with buying my club members shirts.”

If you can’t take the heat …

Even after Bush was re-elected as state governor in November, Kalman and his club continued to pay tribute to the Republican Party.

Three members attended Gov. Bush’s inaugural ball, spending $100 each for their Tallahassee dinners. On March 28, two College Republicans attended the Third Annual Celebration of Reading to benefit the “Governor’s Family Literacy Initiative,” spending $500. The next day, another trio went to a $250-a-plate dinner called the Lincoln Day Gala.

All the dinners tally $1,550.

“I have a problem with that,” says Broward campus SG representative Rick Jarchow, citing a university policy that dictates a daily meal allowance of $21 per person. “It’s a misallocation of funds. That’s not appropriate.”

Kalman says he’s in the clear. He says his club paid for their pricey dinners with money they raised on their own — which is legal under university policy and state law.

“Through my revenue account, which I’ve fundraised money for the Republican Party, I’ve gone to fundraising dinners — at least one,” he said. Using the revenue money like that is legal, he says. “You can buy alcohol and tobacco with revenue.”

Problem is, the club’s count of its own revenue money couldn’t even cover the tip for the dinners. In the club’s budget request for next year, Kalman wrote it raised $125 in the current fiscal year.

These expenses raised red flags for SG vice president Ancel Pratt. “It is being looked into. I initiated the process through the dean’s office.”

It’s normal procedure for the Student Affairs Office to get involved in such investigations: Students shouldn’t be put in the position of looking over their peers’ shoulder.

While Dean Bates wasn’t familiar with the College Republicans’ spending habits, he says that if he discovers wrongdoing, “I would certainly charge them. There is a process which we would go through.”

It’s not often that the administration pulls rank with SG, Bates says. “We still have the authority.” But student expenditures “are almost always approved because it is student money, and they are elected officials.”

That’s precisely why some students are frowning.

SG presidential candidate Shawn Benyo called Kalman out in a recent senate meeting.

“I’m here as a concerned student,” he said on March 20. “The money is not going to the students. The money is not going where it’s supposed to be.”

The next week, Senator Aryeh Lehrer tried to reduce the Republican club’s budget request for next year. It had asked for $4,500 but Lehrer, suspicious of fishy financing, wanted some of that money funneled to other student groups.

“Some of the stuff they pull is immoral, but legal,” Lehrer told the UP.

Boca Raton campus SG Gov. Brandey Parker says it’s a symptom of the system.

“It helps clubs when its members are senators. You have a relationship with your fellow senators,” Parker says. “People treat each other like they’re your friends. You respect that person, and you have a hard time saying no.”

However, even friends can say no.

“When people try to take money from a club, believe me, it’s personal,” Kalman says.

“In terms of things being political and not personal, I don’t mind personal attacks because I plan on entering politics as a profession. I’m ready for them.”

Friends in high places

Shanel Bhagwandin is heading to Australia. The Boca Raton senator will attend the International Mission on Medicine — and FAU students are paying $4,000 for his two-week trip.

No one can recall an individual receiving so much student money — the amount exceeds what Boca student senators gave to most clubs this year. But senators say Bhagwandin got his money because he’s one of them.

“I don’t think that [funding the trip] was necessarily the right thing to do,” Sen. Rafi Menachem said. “If it was just a regular student, then we wouldn’t have done it. He’s a senator and the odds were a lot greater.”

Senator Raul Kapoor agrees. “Here you have a club begging for $1,000, there you have someone you’re sending for $4,000 or $4500,” said Kapoor, who raised the issue at the March 27 meeting. “You’re talking about multiple clubs’ budgets on one person.”

Bhagwandin says he doesn’t plan on using all of the money: “I’m fundraising, so I’m hoping I won’t need that much.” He insists he didn’t get the money just because he’s a senator.

But Inter Club Council (ICC) Director Jon Burford told senators, “You’ve made a laughing stock of Student Government. It’s very sad. I’ve heard so many people in this room when going over clubs say ‘my club this,’ ‘my club that,’ or changing the rules as they wish for their own personal interests.” After he finished speaking, he quit.