The University of Dayton, Sinclair College and Wright State University asked Democratic congressional candidate Theresa Gasper to remove mentions of their institutions from a fundraiser invitation she sent supporters, the Dayton Daily News has learned.
Wright State sent a cease and desist letter to Gasper’s campaign for Ohio’s 10th District, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who represents the state’s public universities in legal matters.
A campaign spokeswoman for Gasper said the invitation “had a formatting error and was immediately corrected.”
Elections experts interviewed by the newspaper said Gasper likely erred, but noted the possible infraction was small.
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The invitation listed five local higher education institutions with names of staff members from those schools who support Gasper’s campaign underneath. The president of Central State University, Cynthia Hammond, appears on the invitation, as does an individual from Antioch University, a private school. CSU declined comment, and an attorney for Antioch did not respond.
“As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the University of Dayton is prohibited from engaging in any political campaign activity that favors or opposes a candidate for public office,” the university said in a statement. “When we became aware of the flyer, we asked the Gasper campaign to remove the university’s name and have been assured that all references to the university have been deleted.”
Deena John, a spokeswoman for Sinclair College, said “Sinclair Community College is a public institution of higher education and is prohibited from endorsing any candidate running for office. Sinclair contacted the Gasper campaign and asked that they remove any reference to Sinclair Community College and we are assured that this has happened.”
A spokesman for Wright State said the university “took immediate action to direct the Gasper campaign to cease and desist from using the university’s name for any campaign fundraising activities or any other political purposes.”
“Individual university community members are welcome to participate in all forms of community engagement including political campaigns but not on behalf of or as representatives of the university,” said Seth Bauguess, the spokesman.
Gasper’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said the error “shows a complete lack of experience” and jeopardizes millions of dollars in federal money given to the five higher education institutions mentioned in the invitation. He pledged to file a complaint against her with the Federal Elections Commission.
“Clearly, this is amateur hour with the Gasper campaign and shows her complete lack of experience, and we certainly don’t want … to gamble our congressional seat when we’re dependent on millions of federal dollars on someone who doesn’t even know how to run her campaign in accordance with the law,” Turner told the Daily News.
Gasper’s spokeswoman, Shu-Yen Wei, responded saying, “Maybe instead of attacking our local events, he should hold some of his own.”
“But this does raise the question of what Congressman Turner’s taxpayer-funded congressional staff is doing sending out attacks in the middle of a day when Congress is in session,” Wei said. Turner’s campaign did not respond to the comment.
Embarrassment is likely the only risk to the Gasper campaign, said University at Buffalo election law professor James Gardner.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any high crimes and misdemeanors going on here, just bad, sloppy practices,” Gardner said. “This is like the lowest kind of infraction imaginable, and not only that, it’s the kind of thing agencies would be reluctant to touch. There is a tendency to give the widest possible latitude to speakers in order not to infringe anyone’s legitimate free speech rights.”
Gardner said the FEC is so dysfunctional, it likely wouldn’t take action on Turner’s threatened complaint.
“Right now the FEC is completely paralyzed by a severe and longstanding partisan divide among the commissioners, so it would be unlikely the FEC would take action on this or anything else,” Gardner said.
Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst and former Ohioan, said, “Many of the attacks campaigns lodge against one another are hyperbolic, and this is certainly no exception.”
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