An Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government campaign is being accused by other candidates of failing to report a campaign expense.
According to a plaintiff brief submitted to the USG judicial panel and obtained by The Lantern, a case is being brought against presidential candidate and current vice president Josh Ahart and his runningmate Jen Tripi by candidates Celia Wright, Leah Lacure, Vytas Aukstuolis, Nicholas Macek, Mohamad Mohamad and Sean Crowe.
The brief alleges the Ahart-Tripi campaign team failed to report the purchase of a domain name “clearly meant to deter an opposing campaign.”
The domain name in question is “voteceliaandleah.com,” which public record from GoDaddy, a domain and website service, shows was registered to an email address belonging to the Ahart-Tripi campaign manager Tim Lanzendorfer in November.
A hearing on the case is set to be brought before the judicial panel, which consists of a clerk of courts with eight judges and a chief justice, Tuesday evening. Ahart declined to provide comment to The Lantern on the case until after the hearing.
Tripi and Lanzendorfer did not respond to email requests for comment Monday.
Failing to report the alleged purchasing of the domain name is a violation of USG bylaws, the plaintiff brief argues.
“Given that almost three months have elapsed with no documentation of the purchase and the clearly malicious nature of the purchase, meant to interfere with the operations of another team, it is evident that the failure to disclose information was not a simple clerical error but instead an act meant to mislead the judicial panel and obstruct an opposing campaign,” the brief says.
If found guilty of the alleged bylaw breach, Ahart and Tripi would be taken off the ballot, however the brief states that punitive action shouldn’t be taken against the nearly 40 General Assembly candidates running on the Ahart-Tripi slate.
USG campaigning is set to begin Feb. 19 with voting between March 3 and 5.
The registered campaigns set to appear on the ballot are: Ahart and Tripi; Wright and Lacure; Aukstuolis and Macek; Mohamad and Crowe; Andrew Warnecke and Logan Recker; and Ryan Hedrick and Nicole Spaetzel. The Warnecke-Recker and Hedrick-Spaetzel campaigns were not listed on the plaintiff brief.
Though Wright, a third-year in public health and USG’s senior internal affairs director, declined to comment on the specifics of the case because the hearing hadn’t yet happened, she said the website purchase wasn’t discovered until recently.
“We didn’t discover it until we tried to make our own website. We bought the domain in I think late January, and it was then we discovered that this domain had been taken,” Wright said. “We weren’t sure how to handle it.”
She said some of the other campaigns became aware of the issue as well, and the three campaigns decided to move forward together with the case.
“I think all candidates in this election are interested in pursuing an ethical, clean campaign,” she said. “It was in that interest that it was decided to pursue an investigation.”
While she wouldn’t comment on whether she thought in this case the punishment of disqualification would fit the violation, Wright said “we were all aware of what the punishment would be when we decided to file this brief.”
She added, though, it was important to her to know the rest of the General Assembly slate wouldn’t be disqualified if Ahart and Tripi were found to have violated USG bylaws.
Mohamad, a third-year in chemical engineering and engineering physics who does not officially hold a position in USG this year, also declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but emailed The Lantern a witness statement he filed.
“I’m running for president of USG, so yes, these other campaigns are my competition but they are also undergraduate students … anything that affects them, affects me as an aspiring representative of the undergraduate student body,” the statement read.
“If I wasn’t running, I’d want to see the candidates who were doing work that presents benefits to the student body before they even get into office. I wouldn’t want to see candidates involve themselves in selfish endeavors and I would expect candidates to run with integrity. I wouldn’t want to see a candidate violate the bylaws and succeed in sabotaging the campaign of another candidate.”
Aukstuolis, a third-year in public affairs who is not currently actively involved with USG, declined to comment on case specifics as well, but said the issue was brought up to him “very recently.”
Aukstuolis said he thinks the potential disqualification sentence is fitting of the bylaw violation because he believes student government would have made it fair if it wasn’t already.
Wright said the decision is expected to be released within a week after the Tuesday hearing.