The $13,000 Question

The release of the 2007-2008 Hershey Avula / Mondaire Jones ASSU Executive financial records raises questions about the personal integrity of our elected representatives and draws much needed scrutiny to the systems in place to prevent wasteful and unethical spending.

Here is what we know:  $11,500 was spent for food during the school year on 250 different occasions, with nearly 45 of these expenditures under $10 and 95 under $20. $1,500 was spent on personal gasoline (presumably incurred on the job), which translates to over 5,000 miles of driving.

It is not a stretch of the imagination to wonder whether the Avula/Jones slate improperly used ASSU Executive funds for their personal expenditures. The sheer magnitude and patterns of food and gas purchases certainly suggest this, as does testimony from former ASSU officials regarding certain situations in which ASSU credit cards were used.

Stanford may never know for certain to what extent these expenditures were inappropriate uses of “discretionary” money, but what is evident at the very least is the staggering waste of funds by the Executive during their tenure. To think that $50,000 of the ASSU Executive budget went toward paying cabinet members, ASSU Executive salaries, and padding pockets with burritos (and BBQ, to boot), is an alarming and disappointing legacy.

Even more disappointing is the Executive’s use of $2,500 in funds (also for food) from the “Collaboration Initiative” and “ASSU Shuttle” accounts. These expenses were incurred on the April 1st credit card payment, at which point the “General Discretionary” account had been emptied. It appears that the Avula/Jones slate proceeded to fund their spending behavior with other accounts, at the loss of the student body.

Though an investigation into these expenditures last year was unable to determine whether the behavior constituted a violation of the Fundamental Standard (primarily because of the length of time that had elapsed), it is nonetheless important that the Stanford student body know the truth about the financial records of the Avula/Jones presidency.

Moving Forward

It is imperative that these financial malfeasances never be allowed again. There are a number of reforms the ASSU should pursue that could effectively mitigate the risk of fiscal irresponsibility and ensure that it be exposed immediately.

First, the budgets and financial records of the ASSU Executive and the two legislative bodies should be posted online. It is encouraging that current ASSU Executive David Gobaud intends on publishing Executive financial records quarterly, but the same should be expected of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council.

Most of the questionable expenditures that occurred during the Avula/Jones administration were out of their “General Discretionary” account. Technically, this funding can be applied to any expenditure. However, funding from the “General Discretionary” account has historically been used by the Executive to fund exciting and worthwhile initiatives that are in the best interest of Stanford students.

However, at its current level of around $11,000, this discretionary pool of funds could pose a tremendous problem, especially in the hands of an unscrupulous official. I propose the distribution of this money over a number of purposed accounts, such as “Executive Cabinet Meeting Food”, “Gas reimbursement”, or “ASSU Executive Projects.” Alternatively, discretionary expenditures should be approved by a board of legislators.

Lastly, the majority of the expenses came from excessive use of the credit card issued to some elected officials. The ASSU should seriously reconsider issuing credit cards to certain officials. The need for such practice is indeed questionable – the traditional reimbursement process guarantees two-day turnaround on reimbursements and also permits the withdrawal of “Advanced Payments” if large expenses are anticipated. And of course, eliminating credit cards would significantly reduce the possibility of improper behavior by elected officials.

The revelations obtained from the Avula / Jones financial records provide an unfortunate wake-up call: it’s long past time to take action and ensure the financial responsibility of all ASSU bodies.

Matthew Sprague served as Director of Capital Group, which manages student group banking and financial services, during the ‘08-‘09 academic year. His opinions do not in any way reflect those of the ASSU or Stanford Student Enterprises.

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