March 7, 2007

Follow the Money

The D published two pieces today dealing with money and the trustee race— an article and a Verbum Ultimum—asking the basic question, where is Stephen Smith, the conservative petition candidate, getting his money and his mailing lists?

When asked, Smith pulled what can only be called the race card: "It is disturbing how quick some are to assume that a black man who comes forward to offer his vision for the College can't possibly be thinking or speaking for himself."

No, Mr. Smith, no one's suggesting black people can't think for themselves, but many have suggested that the campaign you're running is clearly modeled on the petition campaigns of the past few years, and that your rhetoric clearly intends to appeal to the same voting bloc. Others have suggested that you change your message drastically based on your audience and questioned your motives for doing so.

The D is also suggesting that it would have been extremely difficult for you to have magically drawn up an alumni-wide mailing list independently, and that you're clearly getting money through fundraising. The list of your donors shouldn't be something you feel you have to keep confidential.

But the clincher, I think, is what Sandy Alderson says:
Alderson also revealed he had a personal interview with the petition trustees when they considered supporting him before adopting Smith as "their own petition candidate."

He recalled two meetings, one with former petition trustee John Steel '54, and one with Rodgers and Robinson. He said he also engaged in a phone conversation with Zywicki before being "dropped."

"Make no mistake about it, the petition candidate is their candidate," he said. "They dropped me after I didn't pass their litmus test of voting against the constitution -- that and my general but not universal support of Jim Wright."

Couple this with the Phrygian Society (see above) and what do you have? Well, besides a banner issue for The D, an increasingly obvious network of conservatives whose activity on campus is fairly subterranean, despite their calls for administrative transparency. I would call "hypocrisy" on this one, but what do you expect?


  1. Anonymous11:17 AM

    This is an interesting post, but why is it hypocrisy to call for transparency from the administration while going after your purposes in a less-than-transparent manner? The reasons why the administration should be transparent don't really apply to the "conservative network" you talk about. I don't really care if the student organizations or the trustee campaigns are transparent. I suppose I'm interested in where Smith's funding and resources are coming from, but I don't feel that he has a responsibility to tell me in the same way that the Dartmouth administration has a responsibility to tell me how it makes its decisions.

    On the point that Smith's campaign is modeled on the petition campaigns of the past few years, I think that's obvious to anyone with a passing interest in this stuff. Of course it is. Look at Rodgers, Robinson and Zywicki's campaigns. All successful, all with the same message and general m.o., and all within the past few years. Smith is doing the same thing. Does anyone actually dispute this?

    On the race card thing, Smith did a good job of turning the question around, but I think he's mistaken. The question isn't meant to imply that he's a propped-up puppet of a shadowy organization who can't think for himself. Of course he can. The implication, I think, is that he does think for himself, and because his views coincide with those of a shadowy organization, the organization is lending him its resources.

  2. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Smith's entire letter to the D is posted at his site.

  3. Anonymous1:06 PM

    "Smith is doing the same thing" as the previous campaigns? Come on, he's got a professional website and a campaign video.

    He's even got slick photos taken from University of Virginia School of Law promotional materials (compare his website with the same headshot on his law school bio; his main image on the site is cropped from a picture of him speaking with law students in front of a blackboard). I can assume he got permission to use those photos, right?

  4. Anonymous1:16 PM

    OK, so he's doing the same thing, but putting more effort/money into it.

    By "the same thing," I meant things like running as a petition candidate rather than an "establishment" candidate and creating a platform around that, and pandering to conservatives on issues like "political correctness," "administration bloat," the win-loss record of the football team, etc.

    The fact that he's got fancier digs on the web doesn't mean that he's not out to emulate the example of the last 3 petition candidates' campaigns.

  5. anonymous 1: I guess I would ask why the secrecy is necessary first, rather than if it is hypocritical. I don't see its necessity--I think the image of the administration these paranoid alums have created has caused them to believe they need this secrecy. If they wanted to engage in honest debate with the administration, it's pretty apparent that there are a number of outlets and supporters willing to give them a hearing.

    But as for the hypocrisy, I guess I don't understand why it's not hypocritical to call for administrative transparency and then work covertly. At the very least, it's cowardly.

    They are funneling money and recruiting students into an effort to change the way that Dartmouth looks and/or functions. I think I have a right to know more about what they intend for Dartmouth, at least as much as I have a right to know what the administration intends. And I have a right to know why they so intend and how they intend. When a collective effort has the express intent of changing the terms of people's entire collegiate experience—and what else is really intended by a regime change and a return to tradition?—and begins acting on it, I think their right to privacy stops and the public's right to information begins.

  6. anonymous 1:

    Are you serious? If I understand you right, you're saying that an elected official isn't responsible for telling his constituency who funded his election campaign. That's ridiculous.

    Smith is campaigning for an elected position on the board of trustees. If he expects alumni to vote for him, he ought to be up front about who's paying his bills, and who he owes votes to. That's an essential principle of democracy. Anything else is sleazy and dishonest.

  7. first anonymous9:39 AM

    I didn't make the first point very well. Seal and "Nick" are probably right.

    As I read the post, the criticism was directed more at a "network of conservatives," than at Smith's campaign, and I focused on that. My basic point was that there are all sorts of groups of people who want things to happen at Dartmouth and work together for that purpose, and we don't call for transparency from them.

    The people who called me out on this are right that a trustee's campaign is a different matter. Smith should tell us where his money is coming from. He makes the following point on his website, which I think is mostly fair:
    As far as I know, none of the other candidates has disclosed, or has even been asked to disclose, the sources of their own funding. I deserve equal treatment.
    Now that funding has become an issue, the information should be out in the open.

    Smith adds this, though, which I wonder about:
    I am, in fact, a truly independent candidate. No one and no group–liberal, conservative, or otherwise–is controlling or bankrolling my campaign. I wasn’t ‘recruited’ by anyone to run for trustee.

    . . .
    The decision to run and the positions I’ve taken are mine and mine alone, and I alone am responsible for my mailings and website.

    . . .
    Literally hundreds of alumni have donated to my campaign. Some have written checks; others have provided cash or in-kind donations; still others, volunteer assistance of one sort or another. Even students have even done their part, with my fraternity brothers at Sigma Nu having taken out an ad in ‘The Dartmouth’ on my behalf.

    He's probably right about this. It could be that he just stepped forward and decided to run for trustee on a platform similar to those that have been successful in recent years. A bunch of groups out there have probably sought to mobilize their members to support him, which is what often happens in any election. I don't know how much he knows about who's doing what on his behalf, though I would like to know how Smith got his mailing list. I'd also like to know how all of the propaganda groups in the Alumni Constitution vote got theirs.

  8. first anonymous--that's a good observation. Smith may truly believe that his funding is coming from independent alumni. Or at least he may have believed that when he announced his campaign. We don't know for sure what's going on with him. He may be totally on the level.

    But I still think you're overreaching in your defense of what we'll call the "douchebag organization." The Douchebag Organization isn't just a run-of-the-mill association of alumni. Zywicki is involved. That's key. What we have here is a member of the board of trustees running around behind closed doors, putting together a secret political machine to help get others like him elected. That's arguably a betrayal of his position. it may not be against the rules, but it sure stinks.

  9. first anonymous7:58 AM

    Nick, I take your point about Zywicki being involved, but I guess I have 2 responses to that:

    (1) Smith says that all Zywicki's done for him is to give him advice, good wishes, and a signature on his initial petition.

    “Although the three independent Trustees signed my petition, none has given me money or, for that matter, anything at all other than their occasional advice and good wishes. Trustee Todd Zywicki–a fellow member of the Class of 1988–has been a friend since Dartmouth, but he would be the first to say that no one tells me what to think or do."

    This is from Smith's website, again, the March 6th blog entry titled "Declaration of independence." I would be surprised if the other trustee candidates haven't sought and received advice from other current trustees or other administrators.

    (2) I'm not sure I understand your point about "running around behind closed doors, putting together a secret political machine to help get others like him elected." I think a lot of campaigns are (a) organized and (b) supported by some groups of people who don't announce themselves to the public. I recall during the Constitution vote receiving several mailings from groups of "concerned alumni" who claimed to be just regular concerned individuals who felt like doing mass mailings.

    Ideally, we'd all know exactly who's doing what, but I think there's a meaningful difference between organized campaigning and rigging an election. As long as Smith isn't going to rig the election (which no one has insinuated he'd do, and which it would be ridiculous to suggest), all you're really complaining about is people helping him to (a) articulate his message, and (b) reach the voters. Neither of those things strikes me as particularly shady. It's not much different from hiring a consultant, reading a book about politics, or getting a discount from kinko's.

    Please let me know if I've missed something, because part of me thinks that there might be something shady here that I can't put my finger on. The rest of me, however, thinks that there's just nothing there and that Smith is being unfairly criticized for his methods. I plan to vote against him because of his platform, but I really couldn't care less who's helping him out with his campaign. If I agreed with his positions and felt strongly enough about it, I'd help him out too.

  10. I think the main point is not whether Smith thinks he's an independent candidate, but whether the Rodgers Rebellion thinks he is, and I'm sure that they don't. Which is not to say that he is a pawn, but that the insurgents and their backers think of him as "their" candidate—the candidate who is running for their party.

    Independent or not, Smith is still stumping on their platform, and even if their shady machinations are only running parallel to Smith's campaign (i.e. they support him but didn't select him), that's still bad for Dartmouth. Smith's "organized campaign," independent or not, is advancing the interests of a group of alums that thinks Dartmouth was better off before coeducation.

    Let me put this a different way. Last fall, I opposed the new alumni constitution mainly because I thought that if it passed, it would continue to be an issue insofar that every conservative petition candidate thereafter would be able to attribute their defeat (if they lost) to a corrupt system and to attribute their victory (if they won) to an overwhelming mandate of the people, overcoming even the best efforts of the administration to keep them out. Both claims would, of course, have been completely wrong, but nevertheless would have gotten publicity. The current constitution has its own problems, and if Smith loses, I'm sure diehard conservatives will still claim it was rigged, but I don't think it can be manipulated quite as effectively now.

    My reasons for opposing the new constitution were clearly independent of the reasons the Rodgers rebellion opposed it. I want their movement to die; they want it to grow. However, I will readily acknowledge that in acting the way that I did, I contributed (in some small part) to their success, that I advanced their agenda, hopefully only momentarily.

    Did I feel shady while doing it? You betcha. Being "independent" doesn't take away the shadiness one bit.

  11. first anonymous9:20 AM

    If I understand you correctly, then, there's nothing shady about Smith (or his campaign). It's that you disagree with his views (and the aims of the "Rodgers Revolution").

    Forgive me for being dense. If the criticism is just that Smith is part of (or allied with) a movement to make more conservative policies at Dartmouth, then you're certainly right, but there's nothing particularly unseemly about that. Smith's platform is in the open on his website, and it's not exactly news that there is a sizable group of alumni who agree with it and who care enough to make an organized effort to get him elected.

    I don't like his platform, so I'm going to vote against him. I hope a majority of others do the same.

  12. Yes, I don't like his platform, but my point is not that I disagree with it, but that his candidacy covers over the shadier aspects of the alums that are backing him.

    It's like in All the King's Men—-although the Huey Long character is personally corrupt (which is not something I'm suggesting about Smith), his populism and very public, above-board politicking cover over interests that are using his campaign to further their own agenda.

    So it's not that there is a sizable group of alumni who support Smith, Rodgers, et al. and I happen to disagree with them. It's that some of those who do support these men (or are these men) are using a democratic system (the trustee elections) as a front for a larger network of non-democratic activities. This is exactly what they accuse the administration of, only the administration doesn't recruit and solicit students to act as ostensibly neutral commentators supporting their side, and it doesn't rely exclusively on hot button issues which are almost entirely fabricated (e.g. free speech, athletics) to rally its base. I think those practices are unethical regardless of who's employing them and are incredibly damaging to the health of Dartmouth College.

  13. Anonymous6:00 PM

    There are a few issues I have with your criticisms, Andrew.

    First, you have assumed that the group exists exactly as the D makes it sound like (that is, that the group is a conservative monolith). However, a few documents, a bit of speculation from the D, and several prominent conservative members don't make the Phyrgians a conservative group. Frankly, I don't believe much of what the D says on a daily basis (I'm aware of innumerable factual errors made in the D in the past), and I'm not about to put my eggs in the D's basket when it comes to the Phyrgians, particularly given the amount of witchhunting that seemed to go into this article (Tracking people to the Caribbean? Driving for a half-hour to find somebody to interview? Are they serious?). My guess is that the Phrygians are much like any other secret society at Dartmouth- they probably hang out, drink, shoot the breeze, and occasionally discuss politics.

    Second, the use of the word 'conservative' to refer to all students and alumni who oppose aspects of the Administration's policies implies that the alumni base supporting the petition trustees and the Phrygians are monolithic in their beliefs. ALthough there are many similarities in ultimate policy beliefs for these people, they are likely motivated by different beliefs and may hold differing opinions on specific policy issues. Some of the society's members and other 'conservatives' with interest in Dartmouth's administration may be motivated by communitarian concerns. Others may be motivated by libertarianism. Others may just be jumping on the bandwagon. However, to pretend that these people all want the same things for the same reasons is a simplification and, as I see it, a way of demonizing people who disagree with the Administration's policies. The people who oppose the Administration are no more monolithic than the people who support the Administration. That is, significant areas of internal dissent and disagreement exist in both camps. Accordingly, it is no more accurate to call all people who oppose multiple Administration policies 'conservative' than it is to call people who support multiple Administration policies 'liberals.'

    Third, you have assumed that the goal of the Phrygians and 'conservative' alumni is to reproduce or glorify life before women were admitted to Dartmouth. Where your evidence is for this statement, I'm not sure (I certainly didn't see anything in the D that discussed wanting to revert to life before women were admitted to Dartmouth). Although these people may fondly recall aspects of life before Dartmouth, I'm not aware of any serious public or private calls for returning Dartmouth to being an all-male institution. It requires some nuance to understand that some people might want to remember the days before Dartmouth was co-ed or keep organizations around that are traditionally male (namely, fraternities, which are now accompanied by their single-sex counterpart sororities), all without wishing for the College to revert to its pre-co-ed state.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  14. I appreciate your points, but my comments about the society and its backers aren't quite as monumentalizing as you claim.

    First, I acknowledged in the post about the society that "I would not assume that all of the members are equally committed to the anti-administration effort... it doesn't seem to me that all of the members are even that conservative, much less John Birch Society material." So I think I've made an effort to show that I realize that even the Smurfs aren't all just Andrew Eastman clones.

    Secondly, while I agree that there is not a perfect correlation between being anti-administration and conservative, I would say that the most active dissident alums and students are active because their views on some topic—affirmative action, free speech, victims rights in sexual assault, or whatever—are farther right than the administration. No one is in Phrygian because they think our affirmative action practices aren't getting enough black kids admitted to Dartmouth.

    So maybe it isn't correct to call anti-administration types "conservative" but it is correct to point out that the opposition is universally conservative relative to the administration (or rather, their perception of the administration). No one is linking arms with Rodgers because Dartmouth hasn't hired enough women.

    Third, I do feel like I've talked more about the "glorifying" idea more than the 'reverting. I don't think that most Phrygians or even most of the alums behind them really believe that they can rid the campus of women or minorities, but I do think that most of them idolize the time when the Dartmouth experience was restricted to a privileged few. I think many do believe that Dartmouth was better off before it had to deal with the "issues" which having a diverse campus means are unavoidable. That's not to say that they hate or even dislike women or people of color (although I wouldn't rule that out for every one of them), but I think they do feel that "The Dartmouth experience" is impossible under the conditions of diversity, that one cannot become a real "Dartmouth Man" in the face of these other issues like race and gender. I think many deeply resent this and wish to form a community where they can recreate the conditions for this experience, where Dartmouth Manhood is possible. I definitely think some alums want this for the College.

  15. Anonymous7:12 AM

    Smith cannot be an independent candidate if he has the informal backing of members of the Board of Trustees.

    Those members of the board are doing exactly what they accused the "establishment" of doing before they joined -- favoring certain candidates whose ideologies they share.

    Thank goodness the Reaganite/libertarian ideologues are prohibited from gaining a majority on the board. But who knows how much damage their bloc will do before alumni realize that electing them was a mistake? Can the board really be improved by putting on someone who wants to return the indian symbol?