Butler University’s College Democrats was denied a grant from the Student Government Association due to the organization’s political involvement.
This has caused some people to question a long-standing policy in the SGA grants requirements and has led to confusion within many organizations.
On Dec. 15, 2011, the SGA grants committee informed College Democrats that the committee would not be able to provide a grant due to the grant guidelines, which state that “organizations allotted grant money through SGA may not use those funds to provide: financial support for political programs, parties, individual political candidates or direct lobbying efforts.”
James Schubert, the SGA representative for College Democrats, wrote the application for the grant. He said he disagrees with the decision.
“When the budget proposal went in, it was supposed to be to educate people on what it meant to be democratic and to reshape the perception that a lot of students have here,” Schubert said.
He said that the event was about “no candidate, just government in general.”
However, Lexi Gehring, the co-chair for the grants committee, said that the denial stemmed from the items College Democrats listed as requiring grant money.
“We looked at ‘political awareness movies’ [as one of the items listed], and it doesn’t sound [on paper] like it’s political party-oriented, but when they were talking, they described democratic or liberal-type movies,” Gehring said.
Gehring said the same method of judgment was applied for the other items: food for political awareness forums “where they would invite democratic candidates,” subsidized T-shirts that said, “What is a Democrat?” and money for advertising and information for “What is a Democrat?” events, which is “clearly a political party.”
SGA cannot support just one party, Gehring said.
“In the email we sent them, we said if they would co-host something with College Republicans and Students for Liberty and they had these forums or movies that they all put on as a series together, we could give them money then,” she said.
This is what College Democrats planned to do, Schubert said.
“It [the event] would have been in conjunction with College Republicans,” he said, “a bipartisan effort with a couple different forum-type things to try to get students engaged in the larger political arena.
“It was designed to be bipartisan to educate people on what it means to be one party or the other and to get them to see the significance of being involved politically in their government.”
However, Gehring said that an offer to work with College Republicans would not be enough.
“It can’t just be inviting College Republicans,” she said. “It has to be co-sponsored.”
Chase Smith, the president of College Republicans, said that political organizations’ events do not directly support political candidates.
“Our policy, and I’m sure (College Democrats) have a similar policy, is not to endorse individual candidates,” he said. “When we do political events, we try to make them bipartisan; ‘Get out the Vote’ is a big thing for us.”
Dan Schramm, the SGA vice president of finance, said the rule exists so that SGA is not sponsoring any political agenda and can remain neutral.
College Democrats is not the only organization to face problems with grants.
Smith said College Republicans has avoided problems by avoiding the grants process.
“To my knowledge, honestly, I can’t tell you the last time we applied for a grant,” he said. “Political organizations are typically not favored when grants are given out.”
Schubert said his organization’s inability to receive grants is an obstacle.
“Even if we don’t back a candidate, which we weren’t planning on doing with any of the funds, to still be denied that kind of limits what we can do as a club,” he said. “[College Democrats] hasn’t been as active on campus as they would like to be, partly because of the funding restrictions.”
Students for Liberty struggles with financial needs as well. It has never applied for a grant.
“We were aware of the fact that it would be hard to get a grant since we started,” current member Josh Ackermann said. “It’s been a struggle to raise money. It is hard to move forward without any sort of budget.”
Gehring said that the grants committee has approved grants for bipartisan events hosted by these political organizations in the past.
“One or two years ago, we did give one out for a debate between a Republican and a Democratic candidate,” she said.
Ackermann said that he would “definitely be open to talking to the other groups’ presidents or vice presidents” about encouraging SGA to reconsider its policy.
Even when political organizations cannot receive grants, Schramm said they still have a voice in SGA.
“They can still vote at assembly and speak up at assembly,” he said.