President on probation: What went down in 2019 ASCSU elections

Samantha Ye

As Colorado State University students ramp up for classes, their governing body, the Associated Students of Colorado State University, will begin their legislative session. But after a wild ride into office, this year’s ASCSU president and vice president will be starting their roles while on professional probation

President on probation

Near the end of the spring 2019 semester, Ben Amundson and Alexandra Farias were elected as ASCSU president and vice president respectively, but their decisive victory was quickly challenged in an appeals hearing before the ASCSU Supreme Court.

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The complainants claimed the campaign should have been disqualified for their alleged connection to the destruction of roughly 1,500 Collegian newspapers and violations of the CSU Code of Ethics and ASCSU Code of Ethics.

The court did not rule on the accusations in regards to the CSU Code of Ethics but did find three violations of the ASCSU Code of Ethics. While the court did not nullify the election results, they created a year-long probationary period for Amundson and Farias.

This means they are still allowed to serve in their elected roles, but further violations of ASCSU’s Code of Ethics, article I, will result in harsher punishments. They must also create an “educational plan,” which, at a minimum, would include a letter of apology to The Collegian and demonstrate learning and sincere remorse, according to the decision.

Probationary status can be removed but not until at least the spring semester of 2020. 

In a statement to The Collegian, the administration team expressed their readiness to move forward and serve students. 

They wrote that since this administration has taken office in May, they have “developed a framework for a community garden to help students experiencing food insecurity, greatly expanded our student scholarship program, initiated sustainable textile recycling on campus and much, much more.”

“We look forward to the great work we can do for students and the fair press coverage that will accompany us throughout this academic year,” the administration team wrote.

A timeline of key events

March 27 – April 5: Election campaigning season.

Amundson and Farias ran their campaign, “Ben+Alex,” alongside four other pairs of candidates. A significant part of their platform was about addressing student food insecurity.

During campaigning, Amundson said he and Farias donated most of their campaign money to the Food Bank of Larimer County, which is why the campaign could not afford to print colored flyers.

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He made this statement during the first presidential debate, in an interview with The Collegian and in a campaign video posted to their now-closed Facebook page.

Read more about their campaign: ASCSU Campaign: Ben Amundson and Alex Farias

April 5: Report is filed alleging the Amundson-Farias campaign misreported campaign finances.

ASCSU Controller Nick Bohn filed a report alleging that the candidates misreported financial documents and violated the ASCSU Elections Code. One of the problems came down to whether or not the campaign needed to disclose how much they actually donated to the food bank.

On Ben+Alex’s donations and expenditures (D&E) report, they listed a $100 donation to the food bank. Campaigns have a spending limit of $1,250.

Amundson said if he were to report the full donation in the D&E, his campaign could risk being disqualified from the election and that he shouldn’t have to report it because precedent set no such requirements. He also said they did not claim the money donated came from campaign funds. 

Adriana Graybeal, ASCSU elections manager, said Amundson would need to disclose donations if he made the donation with campaign funds or used the donations as a campaign strategy, but not if he donated personal funds for personal reasons.

Read more about the allegations here: Amundson-Farias campaign dispute alleged misreporting of financial documents

April 8: Online voting for ASCSU elections begins.

April 9: Up to 1,500 Collegian papers are stolen from distribution racks.

The Collegian ran the article “Amundson-Farias campaign dispute alleged misreporting of financial documents” on the front page of their Monday paper

But by early morning, most of the papers in the Lory Student Center had already gone missing. 

Other presidential candidates claimed they saw members of the Amundson-Farias campaign team take copies of The Collegian, rip them up and throw them in recycling bins in and around the LSC.

The Amundson-Farias campaign responded that they were “aware that members of multiple campaigns redistributed newspapers across campus.”

Read more about the incident here: Collegian newspapers disappear from newsracks Tuesday

April 10: The Collegian reprints the Amundson-Farias campaign spending story on the front page of the Wednesday paper. 

April 10: Online voting for ASCSU elections closes.

April 11: Amundson-Farias win the ASCSU presidential election.

Due to an unexpected snow day on Wednesday, April 10, the results were announced a day later.

The Amundson-Farias campaign won with 3,033 votes, or 36% of the vote. Their victory was 869 votes, or 10%, ahead of the second place Samuel Braun and Madison Taylor campaign. 

“I just feel incredibly blessed,” Amundson said at the election results reveal. “I couldn’t believe it. Not in 1,000 years did I think this was possible. To be honest with you, I’d love to consider it a huge victory. But, it’s actually more of a start to a lot more work that we have got to get accomplished at this point.”

Read the results here: Amundson-Farias wins ASCSU presidential election

April 19: Former members of the Braun-Taylor campaign file an appeal challenging results of the ASCSU election.

Hannah Taylor and Chris Jewell, both former members of the runner-up presidential campaign, filed an appeal claiming the actions of the Amundson-Farias campaign “violated multiple sections of the ASCSU Code of Ethics several times” and should have resulted in their disqualification. The bulk of their appeal focused on the accusations of newspaper theft against the Amundson-Farias campaign. 

Madison Taylor of the Braun-Taylor campaign resigned from her role as chief justice of the ASCSU Supreme Court shortly after the election to avoid a conflict of interest in the appeals process.

May 7: Public hearing of appeal held before ASCSU Supreme Court.

Hannah Taylor and Jewell represented the appellants, and Amundson and Farias represented the defendants. 

The appellants said the Ben+Alex campaign committed abusive and disruptive behavior, theft and damage, thus violating ASCSU and CSU codes of ethics. 

Amundson said the campaign did not direct anyone to throw away papers, though friends of theirs unassociated with the campaign did so of their own accord. He also emphasized that they did not break the law and suggested their campaign was being singled out by biased appellants. 

For example, while the appellants accused Amundson’s campaign staff of rude behavior, Amundson said there were several instances where his campaign was insulted by the Braun-Taylor campaign staff, including a time when Jewell told Amundson to “suck my balls” through an indirect message delivered via Speaker of the Senate-elect Blake Alfred. 

Additionally, the Braun-Taylor campaign had an election violation filed on them because Madison Taylor campaigned while still holding her chief justice position. According to the ASCSU Elections Code article VII section D, “Members of the ASCSU Supreme Court shall have no participation in any election campaign while in service of their two-year term.”

“Are we the ones in question today, or is this really just about coming after one candidate?” Amundson said during the appeals.

Read the full hearing breakdown here: Amundson-Farias election challenged in ASCSU Supreme Court

May 8: Amundson and Farias sworn into elected positions.

Read more about it here: Outgoing ASCSU officers say goodbyes, pass roles down to officers-elect

May 13: ASCSU Supreme Court places Amundson and Farias on probation.

In a majority opinion delivered by Chief Justice Chloe Harp-Rasmussen, the court found the Ben+Alex campaign in violation of three parts of the ASCSU Code of Ethics:

        • Article I: C3. Officials shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards put forth by this code.
        • Article I: D3. Officials shall not act in a manner to damage the image of ASCSU with the Student Body, the Faculty, the Administration or the Community.
        • Article I: D4. Officials shall not provide false information to any students, faculty, other ASCSU Officials, any member of the press or any other sources.

Amundson declined to provide a comment to The Collegian when the decision was released. 

Read more about the decision here: Ben-Alex placed on year-long probation following ASCSU Court ruling

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.