USG presidential candidate Sponzo accused of violating campaign bylaws

Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate Stephanie Sponzo speaks during a USG senate meeting in the UConn Student Union on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. A grievance against Sponzo has been filed for receiving an unfair endorsement by a speaker at a USG-funded event on Feb. 16. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Four Undergraduate Student Government candidates filed a campaign violation grievance against presidential candidate Stephanie Sponzo for receiving an unfair endorsement by a speaker at a USG-funded event on Feb. 16.

Sponzo denies these accusations.

Sponzo, currently a McMahon senator, received an endorsement from Michael Kimmel at the “Man Up” presentation on masculinity and male image a week and a half ago. Her opponents, Daniel Byrd and Eliza Conrad, as well as their vice presidential running mates, filed a letter of grievance to the elections oversight committee the following day.

“We felt that the actions that were taken at ‘Man Up’ created an unfair advantage that no one would be able to make up at all in the election,” Conrad said. “Her acceptance of the endorsement was something that no other candidate would be able to make up during the process.”

Elections Oversight Committee documents state that Sponzo was endorsed at the event and it falls to the Judiciary to determine whether she had "greater responsibility to reject the endorsement than was displayed in her reaction," and recommended the Judiciary consider no more than two strikes out of three on Sponzo's ticket, unless new evidence comes forward comes forward

Three out of the last five presidential elections have been decided by disqualifications. 

Byrd said he did not want to comment on the accusations before the debate Thursday and instead wanted to focus only on the issues. He added that the case would be heard next week.

“The question is, whether or not (Sponzo) reacted correctly to that endorsement, whether there’s evidence to suggest that she asked for that endorsement and campaigned to (Kimmel) during the dinner, which was also funded by USG,” said Bennett Cognato, elections oversight committee chairman and Daily Campus contributor. 

Cognato said the committee is trying to “temper some of the nerves that were hit” because of the perceived unfairness of receiving an endorsement in front of the approximately 200 students that were present at the lecture. 

Sponzo said the endorsement came as a result of her conversation with Kimmel at a dinner before the event but “did not know in any way, shape or form that Dr. Kimmel was going to endorse me.” She said she discussed the role of gender in politics with Kimmel and mentioned her campaign but did not solicit the endorsement. 

Sponzo attended the dinner instead of the event’s organizer Student Development Committee chairwoman and Byrd’s running mate, Irma Valverde, because she was attending a mandatory Orientation Leader training class. 

Kathy Fischer, associate director of the Women’s Center, and Justin Cardoz, student development committee member, who were both present at the dinner, said in an email to the Judiciary that an endorsement was not solicited or discussed. Case documents state that Cardoz is a registered member of Sponzo’s campaign roster.

“I really don’t see, especially when it was done in a setting where there was USG funding and prior consent to campaign at that event, that there was no way that (Byrd) and I could equally make up that ground,” Conrad said. “It was flagrant enough to require a petition.”

The Elections Oversight Committee ruled that the Judiciary must decide if “(Sponzo’s) interactions with the endorsing party involved more than the Defendant acknowledging her current role as a member and candidate with USG” and “reach the threshold of ‘actively campaigning.’”

USG Bylaws state “Active campaigning of any kind at or within the immediate vicinity of an event funded by the Undergraduate Student government is only permitted with permission from an event coordinator of the event.”

Valverde gave no such prior permission, according to USG documents. 

The candidates’ grievance letter states that Sponzo “stood up, turned around and waved to the crowd” after Kimmel thanked her for being a “good host” and endorsing her for the position. The accusers said this constituted accepting the endorsement and saw this as campaigning at a USG event. 

The grievance letter goes on to say that Sponzo was obligated to “tell the audience that she could not accept the endorsement.”

The four authors of the letter allege that Sponzo also committed other violations, including planning to leave the event early, though she did end up staying for the entire lecture. She was also said to have offered to leave the cost of the meal on her credit card, instead of being reimbursed by USG, which would have made it arguably “a USG event,” thus allowing campaigning. Though she eventually took the reimbursement, the authors said this reaction showed her awareness of the violation. 

Sponzo said she has taken steps since the endorsement to let students know it was not solicited. She drafted an email to Kimmel to rescind his endorsement and made a post on Facebook thanking Valverde for organizing the event. 

“Everything is on record so that there’s no question about my intention,” Sponzo said.

 

Corrections/Updates: Elections Oversight Committee documents state that Sponzo was endorsed at the event and it falls to the Judiciary to determine whether she had “greater responsibility to reject the endorsement than was displayed in her reaction,” and recommended the Judiciary consider no more than two strikes out of three on Sponzo’s ticket, unless new evidence comes forward. 

The Elections Oversight Committee ruled that the Judiciary must decide if “(Sponzo’s) interactions with the endorsing party involved more than the Defendant acknowledging her current role as a member and candidate with USG” and “reach the threshold of ‘actively campaigning.’”

Justin Cardoz, a student development committee member who said in an email to the Judiciary that an endorsement was not solicited or discussed is a registered member of Sponzo’s campaign roster according to case documents.

A previous version of this story stated Valverde missed the even due to illness. She was not present due to mandatory attendance at an Orientation Leader class.


Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at nicholas.shigo@uconn.edu.