Top Central State University administrators personally warned Theresa Gasper against implying the school endorsed her Democratic congressional campaign prior to her staff including the school’s name and the name of its president in a campaign fundraiser invitation, the Dayton Daily News found in a review of public records.
Federal tax code prohibits universities from endorsing candidates for political office, prompting worries among local school officials that Gasper’s campaign material featuring their trademarked names could be mistaken as an illegal endorsement.
Gasper did not personally sign off on the invitations featuring the names of the five local schools, said Shu-Yen Wei, her campaign manager. Wei blamed a “formatting error” for the invitation including the schools’ names.
Central State, Wright State University, Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton each demanded Gasper remove their trademarked name from her fundraising material. An attorney for Antioch University, which was included on the invite, did not respond to the newspaper’s request for information.
Gasper’s fundraiser invitation identified a “Host Committee,” which subdivided individual Gasper supporters by the university or college where they work. Included on the list was Central State President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond.
In a cease and desist letter, Central State told Gasper’s campaign that Jackson-Hammond “did not authorize the use of her name or the name of Central State University to be used for this invitation or any other campaign documents or activities.”
“The restrictions of implied or real endorsements were stated to Ms. Gasper in prior conversations by several senior level administrators,” wrote Laura Wilson, Central State’s general counsel.
Wei said including Jackson-Hammond’s name on the invitations was a mistake.
“Honestly, it was a mistake that her name was on there,” Wei told the Daily News. “It was a mistake on the part of campaign staff … we took it off right away when we found out.”
The newspaper used Ohio’s public records law to obtain copies of the communication between the three public schools and Gasper’s campaign. The records show concerns about the campaign invitation reached the president of each university.
“You must immediately remove Wright State University’s name from any association with a ‘Host Committee’ in any solicitation for political fundraising on your behalf as it constitutes a violation of state and federal laws governing a prohibition on political activity by a state university and activity inconsistent with the university’s IRS government non-profit status classification,” wrote Larry Chan, the school’s general counsel, in a letter to Gasper.
Ohio Assistant Attorney General Lauren Ross, who represents Sinclair, told Wei, “Sinclair Community College is a public institution of higher education and a political subdivision of the state of Ohio and is prohibited by state and federal law from engaging in partisan political activity, including endorsing or providing financial support to any political candidate.”
Gasper’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, has pledged to file a complaint against her with the Federal Elections Commission, claiming she risked the region losing “millions” in federal dollars given to local schools. Experts interviewed by the newspaper said such a complaint would be likely unfruitful due to the commission’s partisan gridlock.
Contact this reporter at 937-259-2086 or email Will.Garbe@coxinc.com.