Fabio Saccomanno, a current candidate for the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government president, has filed five grievances, which have been approved, against USG Comptroller Priyanka Thakkar’s campaign for president, according to Saccomanno.
A hearing will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at an undetermined location to review the charges against Thakkar’s campaign as well as one charge against Dylan DeMoura’s presidential campaign, according to USG Chief Justice Nandan Tumu. It will be open to students and the press.
Saccomanno said he and his campaign staff have compiled photographic evidence of each of the allegations against Thakkar’s campaign, and that they will be reviewed fully tonight at the hearing.
The complaint against DeMoura’s campaign includes posters that were hung in residence halls without the prior approval of UConn Residential Life, Saccomanno said.
The violations against Thakkar’s campaign include posting in McMahon and Student Union bathrooms, which is a potential misuse of fliers. Posters were also allegedly improperly placed in the Information Technologies Engineering building, and Thakkar campaigned through tabling in dining halls and the library, which is against campaign rules.
Stuart Allen, Saccomanno’s campaign manager, said he does not believe the hearing will be about whether the above allegations actually occurred, but rather what the consequences will be for someone like Thakkar who is already involved in USG as comptroller.
“We have been very careful to make sure we have hard evidence of all these claims,” Allen said. “I do not think the debate is going to be so much whether these things actually happened, it is going to be what kind of impact this had on the process and what is an appropriate response to that.”
Tumu said violations were filed against all three presidential campaigns. Saccomanno’s charges are the only ones not proceeding to hearings due to lack of evidence.
“I pride myself on the fact that my campaign was not accused of any grievance,” Saccomanno said. “I am the outsider candidate, given that I was just elected to the senate in November.”
The Saccomanno campaign has also expressed concern over the penalty policy regarding election grievances and whether the Thakkar campaign will be held to the same standard.
Luis Toscano, a legal advisor for Saccomanno’s campaign, said USG’s three-strike policy is not clear and does not specifically state what happens to candidates who violate standards.
“The bylaws are very vague, they (USG) keep it to just strikes,” Toscano said. “That only means that at only that point, USG is going to consider making it so that you are unable to win the election.”
Omar Taweh, USG’s Public Relations Director, said in an email that the process of deciding how to punish students who violate campaign rules is simple.
“Either votes can be taken away from the total sum of votes a ticket has garnered or the ticket can be disqualified,” Taweh said. “The number of violations reported and their severity is taken into account when determining the route of action taken by the judiciary.”
Taweh said in the past, several campaigns have also been accused of election violations which have moved the announcement of results to a later date.
“Once the judiciary is able to convene [with enough time] to hold the necessary hearings, we can anticipate the elections results to be released shortly thereafter,” Taweh said. “Again, this information is not hidden from students — it is simply a standard practice for USG that all members of the student body have the right to know if they choose to do so.”
The Saccomanno campaign is also partaking in a hearing later next week regarding a grievance against USG as a whole in which the campaign believes the March 6 press conference about the 800k USG surplus was a conflict of interest. (http://dailycampus.com/stories/2019/3/7/usg-to-address-800k-rollover-increased-tier-ii-funding-more-internal-initiatives-on-the-way-president-says)
“It seems too coincidental that the first press conference was planned to address the issues that I have been addressing for weeks and that it was planned in the middle of the election,” Saccomanno said.
Toscano said Thakkar walked into a March 3 executive board meeting seven minutes before the executive session began, and that Tumu was also absent from the meeting. Executive sessions are intended to be private and no meeting minutes are recorded, Saccomanno added.
“Tumu is the only oversight into ensuring that the body follows constitutional protocol. The correlation lines up,” Toscano said. “We cannot say definitively that the press conference was discussed there because there are no minutes. But it was purposely deceptive and we do not know why. We want to answer that question.”
Taweh later said the press conference had nothing to do with any form of deception or swaying the votes.
“With regards to the reasoning to hold the press conference at the time that we did was quite simple — I am running the PR operations of an organization that does not take a break during elections,” Taweh said. “It is my job to present our constituents with factual information regarding USG and our funding — arguing that the press conference was meant to influence the elections is erroneous and frankly, irrelevant.”
Allen expressed concern over USG’s ability to check itself as the governing organization of UConn’s student population.
“Fabio and I and sat down with the USG advisor Krista O’Brien and we learned that there is basically no way to stop USG if they do something inappropriate,” Allen said.
Taweh said there is simply no evidence to prove that USG had any role in trying to turn the election in Thakkar’s favor, regardless of her current role in the government.
“There is no justifiable argument in support of any USG governing board member conspiring ‘to ensure that the Thakkar campaign would win the election,’” Taweh said. “All campaigns had violations submitted against them for breaking rules outlined in the election policies.”
Thakkar could not be reached for comment as of late Tuesday night.
Saccomanno said his purpose in pursuing the violations and possible corruption within Thakkar’s campaign and USG is not for self-interest, but rather a greater good.
“We made an effort to pursue these cases because it is important to hold leadership accountable,” Saccomanno said. “So if we do not pursue, it is a reflection on our integrity that we let certain people get away with things, and I am not going to see that happen.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.