Past Student Government campaigns had ties to national conservative group

Several top-ranking FAU Student Government members have taken money from national conservative organization Turning Point USA, but does it matter?

A+national+conservative+group%2C+Turning+Point+USA%2C+claims+to+have+helped+elect+over+50+student+body+presidents+in+the+past+two+years+through+campaign+donations.+Photo+courtesy+of+Flickr
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Past Student Government campaigns had ties to national conservative group

A national conservative group, Turning Point USA, claims to have helped elect over 50 student body presidents in the past two years through campaign donations. Photo courtesy of Flickr

A national conservative group, Turning Point USA, claims to have helped elect over 50 student body presidents in the past two years through campaign donations. Photo courtesy of Flickr

A national conservative group, Turning Point USA, claims to have helped elect over 50 student body presidents in the past two years through campaign donations. Photo courtesy of Flickr

A national conservative group, Turning Point USA, claims to have helped elect over 50 student body presidents in the past two years through campaign donations. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Sophie Siegel, Staff Writer

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Correction | Sept. 17, 4:51 p.m. This story’s headline has been updated to reflect that not all of Student Government has ties to Turning Point USA. 

Over the past few years, a conservative group called Turning Point USA has been donating money to college Student Government campaigns across the country.

While SG races rarely raise any funds — especially from outside groups — Turning Point USA thinks they’re worth spending money on. That is, if it can influence students to “fight” the “leftist presence” on their campuses.

Through its “Campus Victory Project,” the organization claims to have helped 54 student body presidents in colleges across the nation assume their role in office since 2016. The group’s ultimate goal is to help elect SG leaders who will push a more conservative agenda.

Thing is, at FAU, they’ve failed.

Since at least 2016, Turning Point USA has donated $3,000 to two FAU SG presidential campaigns. Despite this, both lost. A third presidential hopeful, who won and served in 2017-18, allegedly received money from the group but she’s denying involvement.

While it’s legal for campaigns to accept money from the group, the cash is meant to encourage candidates to pass conservative laws on campus. Yet, in the past two years, FAU’s SG has seen almost no partisan legislation.

From who received campaign money to how it was spent, we detail Turning Point USA’s attempts to influence your Student Government.

The University Press reached out to Turning Point USA multiple times for comment, but did not receive a response as of publication time.

Close, but no cigar

Current Vice President Marianne Alex received $1,400 from Turning Point USA when she ran for president earlier this year, according to SG expense reports. These detail how SG members spend campaign funds during election season.  

Marianne Alex admits to receiving money from Turning Point USA, and claims the organization didn’t ask for anything in return. Photo by Alexander Rodriguez

While running for office, she spent the money on campaign materials. Despite this, the presidential hopeful lost by over 800 votes.

Alex emphasized that the Turning Point USA involvement was nothing more than financial help.

The registered Republican, according to FLVoters.com, said, “They [Turning Point USA] didn’t ask for anything in return, they just like to see more conservative leaders in office.”

Alex is also listed as a member of the FAU Turning Point USA chapter on Owl Central. She attended chapter meetings during the school year, but claims it was only to garner votes while she ran for president.

The University Press reached out to then FAU Turning Point USA chapter President Morgan Sachs for comment as to Alex’s involvement with the organization, but she declined.

FAU associate professor Marshall DeRosa, who was accused of having ties to white nationalism earlier this year, is the adviser of the FAU Turning Point chapter. The UP asked for his comment on Alex’s FAU Turning Point affiliation with the chapter.

He responded, saying, “I appreciate the opportunity but due to my being in the dark about this [it] is probably best that I decline to comment.”

Alex added that she attended a summit for Turning Point USA with former presidential candidate Jon Carter.

“It was very, very right, which I don’t really consider myself,” Alex said of the summit. “I consider myself moderate, but I do have some conservative ideas, some liberal ideas.”

The UP reached out to Carter for comment but he did not respond as of publication time.

Current student body President Kyle MacDonald, who ran and won against Alex, said Turning Point USA was “the only outside group that was involved in this election cycle … I know they were involved simply because of the campaign expense forms provided by Alex …”

Former House Representative and former FAU Turning Point USA chapter treasurer Jabari May said the funding was a “free segue” for Alex to gain victory.

Although, during the special election that followed Alex’s initial loss, she said she did not receive any sort of support from Turning Point USA. This was backed up by the special election expense reports. Alex also lost that election, this time by 179 votes.

As far as MacDonald’s ticket goes, there was no outside help.

“Many student organizations at FAU believed in our cause and supported us. However, we have never taken funding or support from third party groups seeking to influence our governance,” the student body president said.

Another failed run

In spring 2016, registered Republican Kathryn Edmunds received about $1,600 from Turning Point USA, according to SG expense reports. This was during her failed campaign against former President Michael Cairo. Edmunds declined to comment on the matter. She previously served as student body president in 2015.

Kathryn Edmunds is one of two past Student Government members who have received campaign donations from the national conservative organization. A third, Emily Lawless, allegedly received money but insists she’s never had any connection to the group. Photo by Max Jackson

Former Vice President Juliana Walters, who served under Cairo in 2016-17, said that Edmunds not only received funding, but that Turning Point USA representative Joshua Thifault helped her campaign.

“Kathryn Edmunds … who lost to us that year [2016], were very openly funded by them. Turning Point [USA] had sent Joshua Thifault to campus to organize on their behalf and had stickers/T-shirts made. It was actually super messed up because it’s obviously not a partisan thing,” Walters told the UP.

Thifault, according to his LinkedIn profile, is the director of advancement with Turning Point USA. Listed under his responsibilities is to “identify and empower future leaders of the conservative movement” as well as “contribute to the company’s long-term strategy.”

The UP reached out to Thifault for comment, but did not receive a response as of publication time.

Information without permission?

A leaked document from the New Yorker claims that Turning Point USA had gained a “victory” on FAU’s campus in 2016. The 2016-17 document claimed the “victory” was right around the time former President Emily Lawless took office last year.

Despite this, the registered Republican said she never took money from the organization and wouldn’t comment further.  

Former student body President Emily Lawless denies having any ties to Turning Point USA. Photo courtesy of FAU

MacDonald, who served as Lawless’ vice president, said, “I am not sure who they were citing but Emily and I have never been influenced by outside organizations.”

A trend of Turning Point USA allegedly claiming false “victories” isn’t a one-time thing either. University of Florida former student body President Smith Meyers claimed Turning Point USA used his photo and name as a cited victory, even though he said he had nothing to do with the group.

Where FAU Turning Point USA stands

Current FAU Turning Point USA chapter President Elijah Colas said he believes the money Turning Point USA donates to college campaigns is “a good thing,” even if conservative legislation isn’t passed.

Colas noted that “those who are conservative or just students in general have access to election funds.”

“College students don’t make that much money,” he said. “Knowing all students have that kind of access to funds, I think it’s very generous of the national office of Turning Point USA and more students can take advantage of that.”

He believes it’s not Turning Point USA advancing a certain agenda, but students advancing their own.  

What is Turning Point USA?

The activist group claims it’s one of the fastest growing “grassroots activist network” in the U.S.

Founded in 2012, the national, nonprofit activism organization identifies as anti-socialism and anti-political correctness.

Its founder, Charlie Kirk, hopes to educate students about the benefits of capitalism and why “big government sucks,” one of its more well-known slogans. The organization also routinely registers students to vote.

One of its main goals is to push back against the leftist movement it maintains has taken over college campuses.

Sophie Siegel is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected]