Guest Column: ASA leaders failed to set the record straight in Goldwater report
Arizona Students’ Association student directors from the UA on several occasions have criticized the recent Goldwater Institute report entitled “Welcome to the Real World” of being factually incorrect.
As the author of the report, I would like to set the record straight, particularly when it comes to whether the ASA abided by its own bylaws when it made two separate financial contributions to the Proposition 204 statewide ballot initiative campaign.
The ASA first contributed $20,000 to the initiative in mid-May. It is this contribution that appears to be in direct violation of ASA bylaws for several reasons. The Goldwater Institute did not contest or issue bylaw-related challenges to the ASA’s second and most substantial contribution of mandatory student fee money to the initiative campaign.
The exact details of the mid-May contribution are murky. The best and only account of the spending was provided to the Goldwater Institute by ASA’s former executive director, Robyn Nebrich. Nebrich told the Institute that she and the ASA student treasurer authorized the payment out of their “duty” under bylaws to “balance” the ASA’s budget.
Aside from the fact that an account can and usually is considered “balanced” if an organization has more money than it spends and is capable of covering itsbills and expenditures, no existing ASA bylaws call for spending ASA accounts down to nothing. To the contrary, ASA bylaws call for the treasurer and executive director to ensure that “annual budget reserves are maintained at the highest level possible…” and that reserves be put toward providing “future organizational sustainability.”
Nebrich also stated that the expenditure was approved by the ASA’s Financial Affairs Committee. This committee, under ASA bylaws, is entrusted with simply reviewing the association’s “budget and accounting practices.” The bylaws make no mention of direct authority to initiate, approve or otherwise spend student fee money.
To justify this unusual route of payment, ASA staff maintained that it voted during a “special meeting” by phone on April 20 to remove all matters regarding the initiative from the purview of the full ASA board and give them to what was ambiguously described in ASA meeting minutes as “committees.”
If one were to nitpick, it could be raised that the meeting occurred eight hours premature. ASA bylaws require that student directors be notified at least two days prior to the “special meeting” of the “time, place and purpose” of the scheduled meeting.
One could also object that ASA student board members were informed via email that the “purpose” of the April 20 meeting was an apparent review and/or approval of documents related to the Proposition 204 Quality Education and Jobs Act. The attached documents obtained by the Goldwater Institute cover details of how and with what financial means to conduct extensive signature gathering for the Proposition 204 committee. Absent from the materials obtained by the Institute is any mention of referring Proposition 204 business to committees or any immediate plans for financial contributions to the campaign. (Nebrich had previously advised student directors that financial contributions could be made in July, once the initiative qualified for the ballot.)
Again, ASA bylaws remain silent on whether the board of directors can vote to designate issues of such importance to its smaller committees, who, at least in theory, then make decisions in contrary to the wishes of the board.
Let’s suppose that the move does not run afoul of ASA bylaws. Still, under the association’s own financial policies and procedures, the ASA Board of Directors “must approve any expenditure over $300 that already is not approved in the budget.”
As reported by the Goldwater Institute, Nebrich said this requirement has no bearing on direct political contributions because the policy falls under the category of “purchases” and that a political contribution does not constitute a “purchase.”
ASA critics, as reported, noted that board approval of spending has been traditionally sought for all types of expenditures, even those such as travel expenses, which typically do not result in the tangible purchase of a good or an item.
It should be noted that ASA bylaws and financial policies and procedures do not contain any reference whatsoever to direct financial contributions to political campaigns for ballot initiatives or candidates.
Both current and former non-student ASA staff members were given ample opportunity to explain the noteworthy decision to remove such a significant issue from the purview of the full ASA board. Numerous requests to allow the review of notes, detailed meeting minutes and recordings of the April 20 teleconference meeting and any meeting that may have been conducted by the Financial Affairs Committee were simply ignored. Simply put, ASA’s staff had the opportunity to shed light on the use of its fees collected from students. They chose not to exercise it.
-Christian Palmer is an investigative reporter for the Goldwater Institute