Election commission censures Jamal-Tristian
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Editor’s note: Jamal White, incoming NISG president, has since issued a statement regarding his campagin’s public censure. The statement is printed in full and can be found at this link.
Two weeks removed from the 2017 Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) elections, the incoming student body president is facing some controversy.
Jamal White, president-elect of NISG, was found guilty of violating election rules before taking office by the student government’s election commission.
The complaint was made that White misused a student organization’s funds for the purposes of his campaign, and an investigation of the complaint by the election commission revealed that his campaign had violated the election rules by failing to report one of their expenses on a mandatory financial disclosure to the commission.
Documents obtained by the Northern Iowan (NI) show that on two occasions, White used the debit card for the UNI chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) for campaign expenses.
White did not initially inform the AMA of his use of organization funds, but a source familiar with the matter stated White was forthcoming in reimbursing the organization after he was approached by an officer of the organization that had discovered the charges.
The rules of the student organization prohibit the way in which White used organization funds.
White, as co-president of the UNI chapter of the AMA, made these purchases with a debit card for the organization in his name. On or before Feb. 6, the eve of campaign season, White purchased print materials at Copyworks and an in-app advertisement on the Snapchat website.
It was because these charges to the AMA account were found that an officer in the organization wrote to the election commission on Feb. 26, providing receipts, a copy of the bank statement and one of the flyers Copyworks had printed as evidence.
The two purchases totaled just over $67.
Barring action within the organization, White will remain co-president of AMA until he steps down.
“The allegation that was made was that our final report didn’t include one of the items that was purchased for the campaign, but it was in the first report we sent,” White said in an online interview. “This item was mistakenly purchased with an AMA card, but was refunded as soon as that incidental purchase was realized.”
During the interview, White was asked if it was accidental that he had entered the 16-digit card number and CVV inadvertently on the Snapchat website.
“Like I said. Purchases were made on accident,” White wrote to the NI. “They were reimbursed as soon as noticed. Obviously, I wouldn’t intentionally make purchases on an account that isn’t mine and that I don’t even review the finances on, but someone else actively does […]
“At the end of the day, this has nothing to do with the election. Everything was figured out within the organization. And everything was stated and out there, as there was nothing to hide.”
At the March 1 NISG Senate meeting, some members of the election commission, with Justice Elizabeth Martin acting as their spokesperson, detailed the allegation made and their ruling.
Citing that the rules did not prohibit use or misuse of a student organization’s funds, and the lack of available significant remedies in the election rules, the commission voted to publicly censure the campaign team.
That censure took the form of a written statement printed in the NI’s 42nd issue and provided to Senate.
“We could not reprimand the campaign team of Jamal and Tristan more effectively because of the limitations of the rules,” the election commission wrote in their censure.
The commission recommended additional powers be granted to future election commissions including the power to declare the ticket with the next highest vote total the winner of the election, “if the allegation is bad enough.”
Questioning over how White could have accidentally used the organization’s debit card was the focus of several senators’ questions to the commission.
At one point, Senator Tanner Filip held up two debit cards, a personal and business card, and detailed the visual differences between the two.
The NI asked the election commission and White to clarify how the online purchase of a Snapchat filter could have been accidental. Martin responded that these questions were outside their purview and not part of their investigation. Though White was asked to respond, he remained silent.
Rylee Junk, a junior psychology major, explained that misusing a student organization’s funds would be out of character for White.
“Why would he make a purchase so small if he was going to purposely break the rules?” Junk said. “I feel this debate is calling Jamal’s character into question, and I will be the first one to defend it.”
Speaking on his running-mate’s behalf, Senator Tristan Bernhard reiterated the election commission’s ruling was on the lack of financial disclosure, and that no rules were broken. Senators’ questions to the election commission on the misuse of funds went unanswered.
Senator Oliverio Covarrubias formally recognized White in Senate, yielding to White the floor for a comment on Senate record. In response, White stated he would take questions after the session. After Senate adjourned, several senators spoke to White privately.