ASU professor raises concern over campaign internship ad

A listing for the McSally campaign was sent to students from an ASU email, the University denies wrongdoing

An ASU professor is calling into question the legality of a campaign internship opportunity that was sent out to students from the official ASU Political History and Leadership program email.

But University officials said the listing was above board, and well-within the required regulations laid out by the University’s Office of General Counsel, the legal arm of ASU. 

Christopher Hanlon, an associate professor of English literature on the West Campus, tweeted about the internship opportunity, which he alleged was in violation of Arizona state law, on Sept. 21. 

“I noticed that they were distributing an e-newsletter to ASU Students, among other things, recruiting for interns to work on the political campaign of Martha McSally who (is) running for Senate against Kyrsten Sinema right now,” Hanlon said. “And that of course is an explicit violation of state law — you can't use University assets to influence the outcome of an election." 

The law he is referring to is ARS 15-1633, which defines the prohibitions of the use of University resources or employees to influence elections. 

The law states that “a person acting on behalf of a university or a person who aids another person acting on behalf of a university shall not spend or use university resources, including the use or expenditure of ... telecommunications, computer hardware and software, web pages, personnel, equipment ... or any other thing of value of the university for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.” 

Since the listing was sent through email, this was in violation of the statute, according to Hanlon.

“I was surprised to see it because as I say, it's a flagrant violation of state law,” he said, "and I filed an ethics complaint for that reason over it.”

Roxane Barwick, the manager of the Center for Political Thought and Leadership which oversees the Political History and Leadership program, said in an emailed statement that the internship listing was not in violation of the statute since it was not advocating for McSally, but simply making students aware of the opportunity. 

“Since we did not endorse any candidate, but rather just provided information about potential student internship opportunities, which happens frequently with both SHPRS and the School of Politics and Global Studies, among other ASU entities, we can confidently say that no ASU policy was violated,” Barwick said. 

That opinion was shared by a University official who preferred not to be named, who said the internship was not the main focus of the email.

“The focus of the email ... was on an upcoming lecture and on the program’s new Facebook page,” the official said in an emailed statement. “Using University email to announce a campaign internship does not run afoul of the statute prohibiting the use of University resources to influence the outcome of elections."

The official also pointed to Attorney General Guidelines, interpreting the application of the statute that define influence as “using University resources to engage in any activity that is an attempt to persuade persons to vote for or against a particular candidate.”

The test for determining this, according to the guidelines, “is whether the activities further a communication that, taken as a whole, unambiguously urges a person to vote in a particular manner. The communication must clearly and unmistakably present a plea for action, and identify the advocated action. It is not express advocacy if reasonable minds could differ as to whether it encourages a vote for or against a candidate or encourages the reader to take some other kind of action.”

The ASU official said that this clearly shows that the University is in compliance with the law.

"Neither the McSally internship announcement nor any of the other listed internship opportunities, three of which involve current office holders who are running for re-election, can be said to be an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. No one is being urged to vote for or against a candidate — there is no clear and unmistakable plea for action,” the official said. 

Hanlon said the University would not want to make any statements that caused controversy, and that the listing was part of a larger effort by the Koch brothers to influence students at ASU. 

The Political History and Leadership program is one of several ASU institutions that are funded, at least in part, by the conservative philanthropists. 

Read more: Charles Koch Foundation is spending big on an ASU criminal justice center. Why?

“The purpose of those institutes is to influence college students politically to sort of drive them toward the Republican Party," Hanlon said. “It's also to sort of advocate for changes in higher education that are aligned with the goals of the Republican Party or the furthest right libertarian wing of the Republican Party.”

Hanlon said that he is not alone in his concerns and urges students and faculty who share them to speak up to the administration. 

“This is what tenure is for, so that faculty can govern the University, speak truth to administration," he said, "and I think that if faculty are bonded by this … they should contact their deans and their administration and ask about it, get people on the record that this is how they feel."



Reach the reporter at isaac.windes@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes on Twitter.

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