Recent revelations have left us greatly concerned that the student regent nominee has behaved in a manner unfit for the students he hopes serve. Emails made public by The Daily Californian reveal that in 2013 Avi Oved as a candidate for Internal Vice President accepted donations from Adam Milstein. These emails further reveal that Adam Milstein mailed checks to UCLA Hillel earmarked for UCLA Student Government Leaders. One email suggests that another donor in addition to Adam Milstein may have been involved. This money was then likely sent from UCLA Hillel to Avi Oved and Avinoam Baral in order to fund their student election campaigns. In an interview with the Daily Bruin, when confronted with an email Avi himself confirms that in 2013, when he ran for Internal Vice President, the Bruins United Slate, the party Avi ran with, received funding from UCLA Hillel.
The UCLA Hillel is classified under Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C & 501(c)) as a 501(c) 3 non profit. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit these organizations enjoy exemption from federal income taxes. However as clearly delineated in the IRS website under The Restriction of Political Campaign, Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations;
“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds … clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes”
At the very least, Avi Oved and UCLA Hillel are in clear violation of the spirit of this statute. The donation from Adam Milstein through Hillel to Oved’s public election campaign violates the public interest (and the purpose of the prohibition) in keeping the federal treasury from subsidizing campaigns for public office.
It also may be the case that the actions of UCLA Hillel violated the letter of the statute. Although there is no existing case law that defines whether or not a student government position in University of California system constitutes an elective “public office,” several factors point to this being the case.
Student governments share many elements of elective public offices as outlined by the statute. They are considered legislative bodies by statute (e.g., CA Ed Code Secs. 89305 to 89307.4) and by the CA Attorney General (Op. Att’y Gen. No. 92-508, 1992), making their officers agents of state and/or local governing bodies. They are also bound to many of the same rules as other elected offices. The Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) and its officers play a role in the governance of both UCLA and the UC System (via UCSA and the Council of Presidents). These various powers are conferred by governing bodies of the State of California (the UC Regents and the California state legislature, respectively). If these elements qualify student elections at the UC as political campaigns for public office, then the donations to Oved’s campaign violated federal law.
One may claim that Avi Oved was simply unaware that these statutes existed, or was simply following a pattern established by other students on campus before him. But we believe that a prospective student regent that would represent 233,000 students in the University of California system should at least be capable of recognizing a violation of federal law.
There is also evidence that suggests that Oved’s political party (Bruins United) knew these actions were unacceptable to the student body and intentionally chose not to disclose them. While Oved claims that he did not reveal his party’s relationship with Milstein because “there is no mechanism to showcase that information,” this claim is contradicted by his party’s website, which gives the appearance of full disclosure by naming its other sponsors, under a section titled sponsors. However, the party website curiously neglects to list either Adam Milstein or UCLA Hillel as sponsors. But by making some sponsors public while not disclosing others, Oved and his party give the strong impression they are hiding the donations.
Given his donor’s potential violation of Federal Tax Law in funding his student government campaign and his complete lack of transparency on the issue it is clear that Avi Oved does not uphold the values one would expect from a student leader. Therefore to preserve these values of student government in the UC system, we respectively call upon Avi Oved to immediately withdraw himself from the student regent nomination process.
The authors are Student Action and Cooperative Movement Party Senators 2012-2013