Multiple sources confirmed this week that the current Executive Board of the GW College Republicans considered spending over $4000 on a luxury skybox at National’s Park, home stadium of major league baseball team the Washington Nationals. Internal e-mails obtained by the GW Patriot show Executive Board members discussing the project and an interview with finance chair John Bennett reflected deep tension amongst board members on whether or not to green-light the event. Additional e-mails uncovered the high costs involved with a dinner exclusive to the Executive Board and their guests and a proposed trip to New York with no discernible connection to the mission of the organization.
The e-mails, submitted to the GW Patriot from a current board member, outline a discussion between board members on the cost of the suite, the economic implications (with regards to the Student Association) and the conservative values that fundamentally form the group.
In a personal April 3 e-mail sent outside of the Executive Board, Treasurer William Broman wrote, “I realize that we aren’t a social organization, but I do think you will have a hard time convincing people that when we had $7,000 that we were going to use or lose, you weren’t going to put on a social event. I think that less people will worry that you aren’t spending money wisely, when the SA is the one giving us more than we potentially need.” Regarding the possibility of returning excess funds to the Student Association, Broman wrote that “giving the money back would, in my opinion, be pointless unless we made a huge Hatchet article about how student orgs lose their SA allocations at the end of the year, and end up spending it frivolously.” The following day, Broman wrote in an e-mail that “I’m sure as hell not going to be able to make [a] speaking event of someone I heard last year [Karl Rove], one person I never heard of [until] I Googled her, or another guy who I’ve watched once at 3am on Fox [John Stossel]. Because it is the only event that I can make,” he writes, “I support the baseball game.”
The skybox, a luxury suite with marble tables, leather furnishings and $600 worth of included hors d’oeuvres, contains an indoor section with multiple plasma televisions and an outdoor patio for private viewing.
When approached for comment, Broman stated that the “board discussed a variety of ways to spend our remaining SA allocation that would benefit the dues paying members of our organization, the GW student body, and the Foggy Bottom community as a whole.” He said that “the board decided the most beneficial and responsible way of spending this money, was to invite Karl Rove to speak.” In conclusion, Broman announced a speaking engagement with Karl Rove, an event co-sponsored by the Student Association (which Broman called “generous”) and in partnership with Young America’s Foundation. “I look forward to serving as Treasurer for the 2012-2013 school year,” he added, “and look forward to future partnerships with the GW Student Association as well as Young America’s Foundation.”
According to the official minutes posted by Secretary Ann Marie Nolan to the group’s website, the board discussed the luxury suite, with Chairwoman Kaitlyn Martin motioning to “go ahead with the sporting event for $5,000 at [the] Nationals game,” additionally stating that a motion to contact stadium coordinators “passed 7 in favor.” Multiple accounts show that the only two votes against the plan were Oman and Public Relations Director Chris Wassman.
Oman fired back, in an e-mail dated April 4, writing that “The CD’s are bringing Cory Booker for their last speaker and currently we have nothing lined up … So why don’t we actually do a speaker event? We have the money.” In the same message he wrote, “I would like everyone to consider this. What looks better for the [organization], and what is the right thing to do? Bring in a big speaker and go out with a bang, or go to a baseball game and eat over priced celery sticks dipped in bleu cheese.”
In a statement to the GW Patriot, Oman continued to say that “this example of wasteful and irresponsible spending is not an isolated incident …. [Wasteful spending] is something that I have tried to prevent several times this year.” In an e-mail to the board, Oman wrote that “yes, the box was my idea, but it wasn’t my intention that it would literally be the only event we have in the last three months. Things change,” he said, “and opportunities arise, such as Rove.”
Political Affairs Director Victor Bogachev cried foul on Oman’s claims, writing that “as per suggestion of our Vice Chair [Oman] and with an overwhelming support of general members, I have explored the possibility of a box at a sporting event with the prospects of prominent speakers to attend. After getting the invoice for the prices and with an opportunity to bring Mr. Karl Rove at a reduced price, we chose the latter option to best serve our general members.”
Finance Chair John Bennett said that while he had been approached about the idea, there were no requests officially submitted to the Finance Committee. “I basically told [Wassman and Oman] that they should just go and tell their board that this is not going to get approved … I said to them, ‘Look, if you guys aren’t bringing in a new speaker or don’t have the money to bring in a new speaker, ask us for money and we’ll give you more. Don’t just blow all of your money on a skybox.’”
“You know,” Bennett said, “going to a baseball game with your org – that’s fine. But we’re 18-to-20-year-old kids, we don’t need to be blowing $4000 on a skybox … I don’t think it makes the CR’s an inherently bad organization, I just think it’s a reflection on a year that was a particularly down year. It was a year in which they didn’t really do much. So when they wound up at the end of the year with a ton of money left over … maybe you should just give it back, there are other organizations that need that money.”
In a personal statement, Wassman lauded programming events such as the speaking engagements of Jack Abramoff and the upcoming Rove event. “Yet,” he adds, “while we have used our money well on certain occasions, certain members of our board have put forth irresponsible spending plans [such as the luxury suite and expensive transition dinner] to benefit a few members instead of spreading the conservative message on campus.”
Other plans on how to spend the remaining balance of the allocated funds included a trip to Milwaukee, supported by Oman, a trip to New York, supported by Nolan, Broman and others, and the upcoming annual transition dinner, in which the organization plans on spending over $2000 for the current and incoming Executive Boards.
In the eyes of Alex Mizenko, incoming Finance Chair for the upcoming school year, the Nationals suite proposal was only a misguided discussion. “I think this issue would only affect my perception in the event that the skybox was actually authorized,” Mizenko said. “Lots of stupid ideas are proposed in [executive] board meetings, yet never come to fruition … As long as I don’t see anything like that proposed in their upcoming budget, their funding won’t be affected … I plan to take a hard line against wasteful spending of students’ dollars by any group.” He was confident that the College Republicans will use this experience to reassess their focus. “Hopefully, the people involved in this decision will learn from the fallout that seems to be occurring,” he said. “If they were to try the skybox thing again, I suspect the organization’s membership would hold them accountable in some way.”
Ann Marie Nolan and Kaitlyn Martin respectfully declined to comment on this article.
Chris Wassman is an Editor for the GW Patriot. He was not involved in the writing of this piece.
Update: First drafts of this article failed to note that the e-mail sent on April 3 from William Broman was sent from a personal account. This account is not associated with Broman’s work as Treasurer of the College Republicans. The April 4 email was sent from Broman’s university e-mail address to the electronic mailing list of the College Republicans as part of an Executive Board discussion. Additionally, Victor Bogachev was erroneously implicated in this piece and the section has been removed. The excerpt has been changed to clarify the situation.