ASG finances available to all (Guest column)

Sara Whitaker

For several weeks now, The Daily has been reporting the fiction that the Associated Student Government has a policy of refusing to divulge on what it spends money. “With its repeated incompetence, elitism and cronyism, (ASG) amounts to little more than a club for the self-aggrandizing,” The Daily snarls, adding later that ASG President Jane Lee and Treasurer John J. Hughes III “continue to find reasons why students shouldn’t be allowed to know how their representatives spend their money.”

None of these claims is grounded in reality, but of course the facts never stopped The Daily before. Why start now? The Daily didn’t contact ASG leaders and ask for budget information before it attacked the ASG for secrecy. If The Daily took this rudimentary step, it would have known that ASG has always had an open-book policy. After the first round of insults in January, Hughes contacted The Daily’s Forum editor, offering information about the budget. The editor admitted the reporting was inadequate and said a reporter would call the next day to get the information. No one from The Daily called for two weeks. In the meantime, the paper ran another nasty editorial alleging ASG was sweeping the allegation under the rug. When The Daily’s editor in chief finally got around to e-mailing Hughes to ask for budget information, he promptly offered to meet and see if he could provide more information. The offer was ignored, and The Daily ran another editorial alleging secrecy, complaining that information provided was inadequate.

Now for the facts The Daily is too busy to report: ASG’s policy has always been that its books are open to any undergraduate student. This policy has been written into our constitution for years. Admittedly, we haven’t been perfect at explaining how the process works, primarily because our only request in years has been from The Daily (ironically, last filed two years ago by Hughes, while at The Daily). Essentially, interested students need only to contact the treasurer to set up an appointment to review the books. Since statements from the Student Organization Finance Office aren’t completely self-explanatory, the treasurer goes through them to explain how different programs are funded and what charges reflect. The statements show the amount, date, payee, and funding area for all transactions. Sometimes this information isn’t as detailed as we’d like; charges related to bar nights or Activities Fair are both identified as “Norris invoice.” But the treasurer makes an effort to provide additional information to make statements clearer.

To date, ASG has not posted statements online, because we fear that they would be bewildering to anyone reading them without the context a conversation with the treasurer would provide. We doubt that 8,000 students are clamoring to see how much ASG spends on paperclips. Most importantly, we want to make sure nothing is misreported, and occasionally data entry errors result in inaccuracies that could be confusing. For these reasons, ASG opposed Phi Mu Alpha-Sigma Alpha Iota Sen. Gabe Matlin’s proposal, championed by The Daily, to publish the information on the Web. But we aren’t dead set against the idea, and if many students besides Daily editors requested the statements and gave negative feedback about the current process, we would post information online. If the university system were more detailed, online posting wouldn’t be a problem. As Medill junior Dave Murphy stated in his letter to the editor last Tuesday, SOFO has made strides in improving the information available. But it’s not to the point where things are self-explanatory. As long as we can go the extra step and help students interpret the information, we want to provide that assistance.

In the future, we hope The Daily will ask questions before publishing a series of false editorials attacking ASG. If that’s too much to ask, at least respond to invitations to meet with sources and clarify issues. Made-up stories like this may be thus avoided.

ASG Campus Relations chairwoman Sara Whitaker is a Communication senior. She can be reached at [email protected].