Despite the controversy surrounding the appointment of student regent-designate nominee Avi Oved, we believe that the UC Board of Regents should still confirm him in July. But the occasion of his confirmation has shed a light on the failings of the UC student government elections process.
The Daily Californian published some information linking Oved’s campaign to funding from Adam Milstein, co-founder of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, in return for ensuring that “UCLA would maintain its allegiance to Israel and the Jewish community.” In response, the University of California Student Association Board of Directors held an emergency meeting about Oved to determine whether this funding and connection indicated any kind of conflict of interest for Oved if he were to take office. Both Oved and Milstein have denied any wrongdoing and asserted their belief that this attention has been brought to Oved’s appointment specifically because of his ties to the Jewish community and his support of the Israeli state. His request for our retraction of the published email from himself to Adam Milstein was summarily denied.
It is simplistic but effective for Oved and Milstein to accuse their detractors of anti-Semitism and to use the issue of Israel as a political shield for a problem that is solely about campaign finance. The Israel-Palestine conflict has been brought into the nomination of regents before, because the opinions of leadership affect overall campus climate and whether students feel properly represented and because university divestment from politically complicated companies in the Middle East is constantly at issue. Despite these entanglements, the appointment of the student regent has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine. Although the people bringing these campaign issues forward are concerned with the Israel-Palestine conflicts, they are capable of using that concern as a false flag to achieve political ends.
What is at issue is whether a candidate is capable of acting with integrity. If Oved felt truly honorable and upright about the sources of funding for his campaign, he would have behaved in this instance as though he had nothing to hide. That has not been the case. In his statement, Oved asserted that he is no more compelled to expose his funding than any other candidate for UCLA’s student government and that there is “no mechanism to showcase that information.” That may be strictly true, but “showcasing” is a world away from hiding. As a candidate for such a visible office, Oved should be prepared to be held to a higher standard and perhaps compelled to greater transparency.
Setting Oved aside completely, the real issue here is how UC student government elections are regulated and how campaign financing is reviewed. All campaigns should be required to raise no more funds than a modest dollar cap would impose, and every university should look to lower that cap. All funding sources should be publicly reported, as with dollar amounts attached to donor names for public perusal, as UC Berkeley has required since 2012. Without checks and transparency, UC student government elections could become as financially bloated and secretive as all other U.S. elections, and our politics could be as controlled by corporate interests as government at large.
Independent scrutiny is necessary, but what does this investigation actually serve? Oved’s opinions and political leanings were already known before he was nominated. Whether Oved broke campaign regulations is not being investigated; political conflict of interest is at issue. It is unlikely investigation is going to turn up anything that isn’t already clear.
The hearing itself served a purpose, despite confusion in public comment. When the UCSA board opened up the conference call to public comment via Google Forms, their process did not account for the probability of false identity. Overall, the process of the meeting was as orderly as possible, and Oved’s absence was frustrating for those who wanted to question him directly, but it was dealt with smoothly by the UCSA board. Oved was available at the later closed session held by the UCSA’s systemwide affairs committee.
Oved can be the occasion for UC student government campaign finance reform. The questions that have arisen about conflict of interest and the compromise of integrity that is the result of undisclosed funding sources deserve to be answered with stern regulation to ensure we don’t end up back in this same place next year. Hiding behind incendiary and divisive political issues and crying wolf every time a legitimate complaint is lodged against a controversial candidate are cheap moves. Oved should admit where his funding comes from, assert that he is still the best candidate for student regent and await his confirmation.
Until student campaign financing is transparent, the Daily Cal is interested in all tips and documents that may indicate a conflict of interest arising from funding. Please feel free to contact us with your information.