With the election set to begin next week, a Student Government (SG) presidential candidate put another’s campaign to a halt before the first ballot was filled – if only for a moment.
Presidential candidate Andrew Cohen filed six grievances against Cesar Hernandez and running mate Spencer Montgomery, claiming they violated SG statutes that state campaigns can’t use university and SG logos or trademarks.
Cohen, who based his grievances on Facebook photos on Hernandez’s group page, tried to file the grievances anonymously, which did some violating of its own.
Michael LeBlanc, supervisor of the Election Rules Commission (ERC), notified Hernandez via e-mail Monday, saying there was a hearing scheduled for Tuesday where Hernandez could present his defense.
A candidate must be notified of grievances brought against them within 48 business hours from the filing.
“We went ahead and scheduled the hearing even with the confidentiality in issue,” LeBlanc said. “I wanted to move ahead because this is crunch time, and if there was something that would make the election unfair, I needed to take care of it quickly.”
At the beginning of the hearing, Hernandez – still not knowing who filed a grievance with him – read a written statement.
“It is unfair and unethical for this nameless candidate to not only hide his face while he throws stones at me, but also take away my ability to defend myself from the attacker,” he said in his conclusion. “At least the Roman leader Caesar was allowed to look his assailant in the eye and allowed to utter ‘Et tu, Brute?’ as he was stabbed in the back.”
Hernandez and his running mate said they acknowledged some of the charges, but the anonymity of the accuser was the issue. The photos in question depict Hernandez and campaign members posing with Rocky D. Bull and standing in front of a USF banner. A candidate running in an SG election cannot insinuate university endorsement.
To resolve whether Cohen could remain anonymous under the protection of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) – the federal law that protects the privacy of student education records – Leblanc contacted SG Attorney General Cordell Chavis.
Chavis consulted with Joanne Adamchak at USF’s General Counsel, which provides legal advice and counsel, and she replied: “I would recommend we allow (Cohen) to retract the grievance or to move forward understanding it cannot be anonymous.”
LeBlanc received an e-mail during the hearing from Chavis, who notified him of the decision. The Hernandez campaign was accrued five of the 10 points a candidate is allowed before he or she is removed from the election.
“When a grievance is filed, it’s not a candidate against a candidate or a campaign against a campaign. It becomes the accused campaign against the ERC,” Cohen said. “I chose to submit the charges under anonymity because I do not think that the person submitting the grievance should have anything to do with the grievance itself.”
However, the Hernandez campaign was found guilty of three – receiving two points for two and one point for the third – even though the photos are very similar, which confused Ken Getty, Hernandez’s campaign manager.
“If our offense is the same thing over and over,” he said, “We don’t understand why we would get points on one photo and not on the other… We feel their rulings were inconsistent.”
Cohen said he did not believe his anonymity would be an issue, and it was not his intent to seek out discrepancies in campaigns.
“I believe the Hernandez-Montgomery campaign broke the law, and the ERC agrees. I think the students deserve a legitimate election,” he said. “All I was trying to do by raising my concerns was to keep the legitimacy of the election in the best interest of the students. When I was told that this other ticket was in an uproar about knowing who I was, I said, ‘Tell them who I am.'”
The Hernandez campaign said the focus now is winning the election and getting the allotted points mitigated. They plan to appeal to the SG Supreme Court and didn’t know when the next hearing had been scheduled.
Leblanc said he feels the election has been ethical so far.
“There have been elections in the past where grievances were filed three times a week, where some of them were unfounded and some of them were required because people were acting in an unethical manner,” Leblanc said. “As the ERC, I’ve seen people act like USF Bulls should act, by and large … I’m very impressed by everyone that is running for president and vice president.”