Super PACs — the political action committees with the ability to accept unlimited political contributions — are already playing a major role in the 2016 presidential race. But in advance of a midterm election for Central Student Government, a University law student has found an election code loophole that would allow people to funnel unlimited funds to CSG candidates.
Law school student John Lin, a former CSG general counsel, submitted a petition Thursday night to the University Elections Commission regarding the legality of student organizations formed for the sole purpose of funding CSG candidacies.
Lin said he filed the petition to point out a hole in the CSG Election Code which allowed the creation of such an organization. To make his point, he founded LINPAC, which stands for Likeminded Individuals Networking to Passionately Advocate on Campus. He said under the current code, the organization could essentially operate like the PACs that fund state and federal elections.
“The decision to create it was literally a joke,” Lin said in an interview Sunday. “I figured it would be a good way to stay involved this term.”
He said the loophole was brought to his attention at the end of the last election cycle, and he figured forming a PAC of his own was the best method to inform the current CSG administration that the loophole needed to be closed.
In the petition, Lin stated there are currently no restrictions in the election code that prohibit the formation of an advocacy group to fundraise and produce advertisements for candidates of its choice. The current election code limits spending and donations for individual candidates, legislative campaigns, presidential tickets and parties, but he said LINPAC wouldn’t violate any of those provisions. He asked CSG for an opinion on whether his analysis was correct, which was ultimately denied.
Lin said his petition was influenced by Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Super PAC.
“I don’t intend on actually going through on any of it,” Lin said. “I just wanted to point out that there’s a hole someone should look into fixing.”
However, Lin said he can see reason to keep the loophole open.
“Obviously this is something that we allow in our federal elections,” he said. “If it’s something we allow at that level … maybe it should be constitution-protected at our level as well.”
The CSG Elections Commission had 36 hours to address Lin’s petition. Saturday, CSG Election Director Benjamin Reese, a law student, denied Lin’s request. In an e-mail, Reese said the counsel is already working on addressing the hole in the election code Lin’s petition acknowledges.
Reese said the petition raises questions about how First Amendment rights would apply to a campus election.
“This is getting into Citizens United territory, and whether money is speech and whether that decision applies to the campus context,” Reese said. “It’s going to require the commission to do a great deal of research to make sure that our opinion is very carefully phrased.”
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled the First Amendment prevents the government from curbing political spending by a nonprofit corporation.
Reese said it would be better if the commission issued an opinion under its own authority instead of simply responding to Lin’s.
“We are currently also considering the political action committee question on our own,” Reese said. “Because that is ongoing, we are not going to respond to petitions on that question right now because the advisory petition we ultimately issue will be more thorough and well-researched.”
The midterm elections, slated to take place Nov. 18 and 19, will fill vacancies among representatives and select several specific positions on CSG, including a member of the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee.