Greens consult lawyer over SLC

K.C. Howard

College Green Party members spoke with a lawyer Tuesday to consider bringing legal action against the Student Legislative Coalition for excluding the party’s candidates from a political debate.

The group will announce next week whether it will file a formal complaint against the SLC with the Internal Revenue Service, the Secretary of State or the University.

“It is our desire to make sure the Green candidates are included in all future debates,” said Matthew Devany, a college Green member and graduate student. “We’re just seeking advice on how to proceed and how to carefully craft our complaint.”

The SLC invited five Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates to its debate last April 17 at Ted Mann Concert Hall on the University’s West Bank.

But the SLC – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization – did not allow Green Party candidates to speak at the forum, sparking protests outside the event and disruptive behavior inside the auditorium.

“It was always about limiting the number of people on stage for the pre-endorsement debate,” said David Boyd, SLC executive director.

The SLC will have four other gubernatorial debates after party endorsements. They have maintained that all endorsed candidates will be invited to future events, Boyd said.

But Devany said he doesn’t trust the SLC to keep its promise.

“The SLC has shown quite a bit of waffling in the past in light of how they changed their requirements of participation in the debate,” he said. “We have no idea if the SLC will change their mind again.”

According to state law, nonprofits such as the SLC cannot support, endorse or oppose parties or candidates. Groups must also establish selection criteria before inviting candidates to the debate.

Boyd said the SLC used the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press Web sites to determine candidates’ name recognition.

“We didn’t get any hits on any of the Green candidates,” Boyd said.

The group compared name recognition to the candidate’s ability to raise at least $2 million and whether the candidate garnered 15 percent of the vote in a previous election.

Boyd would not say if the group established the criteria before inviting candidates, because of the pending legal action. But he said members revised the criteria after sending invitations March 15.

“We revised them to be clearer, which to my understanding is perfectly legal,” Boyd said. “I have complete faith if this were to come to a lawsuit that it’s baseless and the SLC would not be harmed.”

IRS spokeswoman Sarah Wreford said she did not believe the SLC’s exclusion of Green Party candidates violates the organization’s nonprofit status.

“If the Green Party was to file a complaint with the IRS, I suspect we’d look into the complaint,” she said, “but it might just be considered a lack of correct planning.”

Students have the option to not pay the $3.09 SLC student fee, but Brett Stephans, a University alumnus and college Green member, said he hopes students will demand a refund and opt out of the fee in the future because the group doesn’t represent the student body.

Since the controversial debate, only one student has asked for a refund, Boyd said.

At least five Student Services Fees Committee members are disquieted with the SLC and said the group could be in trouble when it asks for University funding next year.

Students will pay 9 cents less to the SLC next fall due to a cut the fees committee approved earlier this semester.

Boyd said because of the SLC’s excellent reputation at the Legislature and the group’s commitment to students’ quality of life, he doesn’t worry about losing University funding this year or the next.

“The vast majority of the people that I’ve heard who were concerned were not students,” Boyd said.

While student fees Chairman Tim Lee said there is no established procedure to revoke the group’s approved funding for next year, some members disagreed.

“Half the time being on the fees committee, it’s just making up the game as you go along,” said Martin Andrade, a fees committee member and University sophomore. “This will come up again.”

K.C. Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]