On Monday, Georgia Tech graduate (and plaintiff in ADF’s suit against Tech) Orit Sklar published an article in FrontPage Mag that outlined the assistance Tech administrators gave Barack Obama when he visited campus earlier this year. Greg Pierce at the Washington Times has picked up the story as well:
Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign has set new fundraising records, but the Illinois Democrat got some free help from Georgia Tech administrators earlier this year.
“When Obama came to Atlanta in April, he held a campaign rally in Yellow Jacket Park — the heart of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s campus,” recent Tech grad Orit T. Sklar writes at FrontPageMagazine.com. “As expected, news of Obama’s upcoming visit was everywhere — television broadcasts, newspapers and blogs. What I didn’t expect was to learn of his visit from an e-mail sent by the Georgia Tech Dean of Students Office.
“In the e-mail message sent through the Buzzport announcement system, usually reserved for official Institute business, all 17,000 Georgia Tech students were informed about Obama’s visit and solicited to volunteer for his campaign. The message stated: ‘Senator Obama is also in need of a lot of volunteers to help him publicize while he is in Atlanta. If you are interested in volunteering, you can check the box that says volunteers on the RSVP page.’ “
In other words, state employees are using state resources on state time solicited volunteers to publicize a campaign event, including (according to the original e-mail) soliciting help with a “sign making party,” a “street publicity team,” and help running the “actual event.” One wonders, were any state employees at the “sign making party?” Were they on the “street publicity team?” Like most states, Georgia has a labyrinth of laws and regulations that dramatically limit the ability of state employees to engage in partisan political activities on state time. Section 45-11-10 of the Georgia statutes makes it a misdemeanor for any state employee to “coerce or attempt to coerce or command directly or indirectly” any other state employee to contribute “anything . . . of value” for political purposes. Section 21-5-30.2 prohibits any campaign contributions on behalf of any state agency, and the Georgia Personnel Board prohibits any classified employee from participating in “any form of political activity while on duty or under color of office or position.”
Georgia Tech’s own employee handbook prohibits classified employees from taking an “active” part in campaigns when that work “interferes with the performance of duties or services for which he or she receives compensation” from the university. Using actual work time to promote a Democratic presidential candidate’s publicity efforts by definition “interferes” with their assigned tasks.
As Orit noted in her article, over the last few years, Tech has hosted Wesley Clark, Dennis Kucinich, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. As the 2008 political campaign heats up, the time has come to place government schools under scrutiny. It is literally a criminal misuse of taxpayer funds for public university officials to use state resources to support their favorite candidates. We wouldn’t tolerate this abuse if it came from a state department of transportation or from a state department of health and human services. We should not tolerate it when it comes from a state system of higher education. The health of our democracy depends in large part on the inability of any person to hijack the resources of the state to facilitate his or her political campaign.
And this brings us to the ultimate double standard. Even as the university officially casts its lot with the Democrats, it is busy defending in court a rule which prohibits private student organizations from using student (not university) funds to offer opposing political views. An ideological monopoly is a nice thing . . . if you can keep it.