I like Bill Bradley. I’ll probably vote for him, I might even campaign for the man. He’s from my state, he’s proposed some ideas that I agree with and he played basketball – I like basketball. It seems like the perfect match.
However, I am not an Ephs for Bill Bradley supporter. I may, in fact, be one of their most vocal opponents. I do not feel that this group, a noble attempt at political activity desperately needed on this apathetic campus, should receive College Council funding and I am impressed by the Council’s decision not to fund the group.
I was surprised at the Gaudino Forum last Tuesday. Officially advertised as a discussion about whether or not this specific group should be funded, it turned out that both sides started the debate asserting that there is no political problem created by funding the Ephs for Bill Bradley. The problem is that there would have been many political issues had this group been funded.
The Ephs for Bill Bradley claim that they did not violate any specific clause in the CC constitution or bylaws. However, if this were how funding was decided, there would be no need for a vote. A working republican form of government is created to interpret both the letter and spirit of the government. Part of this spirit is that College Council has no place supporting political candidates.
But wait, they claim, this is not supporting a candidate, and if it were, precedents from years past show a non-neutral pattern of political funding. The beauty of precedent is that it can be changed and manipulated, otherwise, god only knows how backwards our federal constitutional rights would be right now! Precedent, while powerful, is infinitely malleable.
The question remains: is giving Ephs for Bill Bradley funding an act of implicit support? Yes. This money, although not going directly to Bradley’s campaign, is clearly earmarked for the support of a specific candidate and a specific campaign. Obviously, the group is planning on promoting Bradley over other candidates – a non-neutral decision based on a preference for a specific candidate allowing that specific candidate an unnatural advantage over other candidates on campus. That advantage will be created with College Council money, in other words, with College Council support.
Even worse, Ephs for Bill Bradley are claiming the $150 earmarked for advertisement is neutral. Any sign with “Paid for by the Ephs for Bill Bradley” is inherently partial. They may only be placing harmless, objectively written articles on dining tables, but this was still an act by a group solely created to support Bill Bradley. This is similar to issuing ads by interest groups. These never mention specific candidates or ask for support, but clearly are meant to undermine one position or support another.
As we speak, the reactive, gridlocked, slow-moving Congress (in response to overwhelming popular support) is trying to abolish this in national politics. Clearly, this is a damaging loophole in campaigns and Williams should not support a similar attempt on campus.
Another argument in support of funding is that this group is no different from the Garfield Republican Club or a religious group. However, there is a clear distinction to be made. Both the Garfield Club and religious groups support ideas and concepts; neither support a specific candidate and his specific views.
Both the religious groups and the Garfield club allow room for intragroup debate; this group does not (whatever Bradley says goes). Both the religious groups and the Garfield Club are permanent. Both revolve around fundamental philosophical and political beliefs. Ephs for Bill Bradley, on the other hand, is a temporary mechanism created to support a candidate, not a set of philosophical beliefs to be hammered out in debate.
We need to remember where the funds for groups come from. They come directly from our tuition in the form of student taxes. When my family paid for my college experience, we did not pay to help a club go off campus to watch Bill Bradley speak. I certainly did not pay for a group of students to distribute articles in support of one candidate.
Student activity funds should be earmarked for clubs that either need the money to function (how else would we be able to have ceramics clubs or club sports without exorbitant direct fees?) or help the Williams community in general (we fund a capella so that they can perform on campus for free and still travel).
From the debate over the Ephs for Bill Bradley, it is clear that the CC constitution and bylaws are not clear enough about what clubs deserve funding. I welcome CC’s desire to study and revise these issues, and hope that they continue down the prudent path begun with the denial of funds for the Ephs for Bill Bradley.
Oh, and come primaries and next November: Vote Bill Bradley.