By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 27, 2013
A seemingly innocuous campaign e-mail sent by the party chair of forUM to members of his fraternity has quickly escalated to a threat of filing lawsuits with the Central Student Government’s University Election Commission, according to a series of messages obtained by The Michigan Daily.
Eaghan Davis, forUM's chair, sent an e-mail Wednesday to a non-University listserv of the members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, of which he is a member. The e-mail encouraged brothers to vote for forUM in the election and ended saying “This is who we're running against” followed by the headshot of LSA freshman Nick Swider, the presidential candidate for momentUM.
A member of the listserv sent the e-mail to LSA junior Jill Clancy, the momentUM vice presidential candidate, who then e-mailed Davis.
“I expected more professional tactics from you as party chair,” Clancy wrote to Davis. “I feel it is inappropriate that you are emphasizing physical appearance above our platform and what we envision for our University.”
Davis responded, apologizing for the “crude joke to fraternity brothers that was in poor taste.” However, Davis didn't stop there.
“Clearly I'm disappointed that a member of my own fraternity showed you an email, but I would also like to remind you that our legal team has 6 violations of the UEC election code by momentUM," Davis wrote.
“If you go public with this email — we will submit every UEC violation," Davis added.
Davis also offered to include Clancy on a lawsuit forUM plans to file against youMICH Wednesday.
In a joint statement, Swider and Clancy said they were upset with the initial e-mail, but more so at the ensuing e-mail from Davis.
“What’s even more unfortunate is that it was followed by a foul play — a threat to derail our campaign that has focused on no ethos more than a clean campaign,” the statement said. “It's especially disappointing that any of the candidates would have to deal with this kind of issue, especially when we each promise so much to the University in the interest to better the learning experience for the students.”
Public Policy junior Alexander Lane, forUM's communications director, said Davis is not the person in charge of legal affairs for the party.
“Mr. Davis is the party chair, not legal chair,” Lane said. “He was not authorized to disclose this information. Mr. Davis regrets the error in question.”
Swider released an individual statement as well, expressing disappointment with the incident and concern with the use of blackmail.
“I am incredibly disappointed with the lack of integrity, character, and honor by forUM and its leaders,” Swider said. “Obviously, I don't give a damn about a personal attack against my appearance.”
This incident, however, illuminates a larger issue — preparing and filing complaints to gain a competitive advantage over other campaigns. Complaints are heard by the UEC, the CSG judicial branch, and can results in demerits. Parties and candidates can only be issued 10 and five demerits respectively before they’re disqualified.
A suit was filed last year against Business senior Manish Parikh and LSA sophomore Omar Hashwi — then candidates for CSG — regarding a supporter who e-mailed listservs he didn’t own. In the end, the UEC voted 3-2 the duo would only receive four demerits. That complaint alone delayed the release of the results by nearly 10 hours and eventually delayed the ratification of the election results several weeks.
“My impression is that the way that these things normally work is that you don’t take any legal action really until after the election is over or until very close to the election being over,” Lane said.
Lane added that forUM has been doing nothing out of the ordinary in this regard.
“Everything that we are doing is exactly what all the other parties are doing. It’s exactly what the other parties are doing,” Lane said. “It’s exactly what parties have done in the past.”
Still, Lane said forUM does not plan on using complaints or hearings as a way of winning elections, but that parties “keeping tabs” on one another is the norm.
“We all mutually understand that that’s the reality of the situation,” he said.
Business junior Scott Christopher, the independent presidential candidate, LSA sophomore Laurel Ruza, the chair of youMICH, and Clancy said they don’t plan on holding or preparing any complaints to file on Thursday. All three, however, declined to absolutely rule that possibility out.
“I do know some people are thinking of strategies on how to file lawsuits, but we haven’t put much thought into that,” Christopher said.
Ruza noted the negative connotation with filing complaints late.
“We try not to wait until the last minute,” Ruza said. “I think that does look like you’re trying to kick somebody out specifically.”
Ruza said that when suits are filed to counter other suits, smaller infractions that are commonly ignored might come into play.
“If we’re being attacked with small violations and that sort we do have those violations that we’ve seen as well,” Ruza said. “It’s nothing that we want to embark on, but at some point parties start doing these strategic little petty UEC violations and it kind of is a back and forth at that point.”