Ababiy: Turning Point USA’s history of mingling in student elections

Watch for outside groups influencing student elections.

Jonathan Ababiy

If you’ve heard about the Turning Point USA club on campus, it’s probably from this fall’s vandalism incident, when various conservative and non-partisan student groups had their Washington Avenue Bridge murals painted over. The controversy snowballed off the previous year’s vandalism incident, further fueling conservatives’ feeling they are persecuted on campus. Madison Faupel, the campus president of Turning Point and the Minnesota College Republicans, gave a “testimonial” to the Daily Beast about the “anger, doxxing and intimidation” she experienced as a result of the her group’s “Build the Wall” mural. 

As our campus swings into student election season and we look to elect new student leadership, the policies and practices of Turning Point USA’s national organization deserve focus. The organization has demonstrated that it is committed to what the Chronicle of Higher Education calls a “stealth plan of political influence” to eliminate thought that is different from its own.

Jane Meyer of the New Yorker reported in December that the group has a “Campus Victory Project,” a plan to capture the student presidencies of the country’s most prominent universities. Turning Point-affiliated candidates are expected to follow a “set political agenda.” Meyer, using as evidence a leaked donor brochure intentionally kept offline to prevent leaking, writes that among its planks are: defunding of progressive organizations on campus, implementation of free speech policies and the blocking of “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movements. Another brochure brags about the number of student elections the group has won.

To achieve its goal of taking ideological control of college campuses, the group has demonstrated it is willing to break the rules. The University of Wyoming recently shut down its school’s chapter after it found that the group misused student fee money. 

A more dramatic example is the national organization’s failed attempt to win the presidency of the Ohio State University student government. The group reached out to student candidates and offered to fund them. One pair of hopefuls even received $6,000 — $2,000 more than the campaign finance limit at OSU — to fund their campaign. Turning Point USA would even have their staff be leadership directors who would run campaigns for students, sometimes paying students to do campaigning for candidates. 

This, of course, was all illegal, so Turning Point tried to keep it a secret. In a recorded phone call, Alana Mastrangelo, a Turning Point USA regional director, told a student she was recruiting, “Keep it, like, on the DL. Like hardcore on the DL, because Turning Point in general has a huge reputation for being really conservative. They’re starting to call us the alt-right.” When this call and other communications from Turning Point USA were leaked to the OSU student newspaper, the students involved dropped out of the race. 

Student elections seem like insignificant offices in the grand scheme of politics, but they still play a role in shaping the University’s future. Our next student president will have to interact and convince the fickle Minnesota legislature to start caring about the University. The role should really be non-partisan. Student government should be focused on solving students’ problems, not role-playing for future partisanship. 

The behavior of Turning Point USA shows that it is willing to use its deep pockets to break the rules and be an ideological hammer against opposing viewpoint. This coming election season, students at the University of Minnesota should watch for outside groups mingling in student elections. Let’s keep our elections free of the hyper-partisanship and gridlock of our current national politics.