Updated, 2:21 p.m. Friday: The McGee-Smithburg campaign has issued a statement regarding last night’s citation. Access it here or at the bottom of this story.
The ASG election commission cited the campaign of presidential candidate Mike McGee early Friday morning for an e-mail sent by Academic Director-elect Muhammad Safdari in which he accused candidate Bill Pulte’s campaign of “extralegal tactics.”
Safdari’s e-mail, which was forwarded to various campus listservs, had “several issues of slander, libel and defamation,” according to a statement released by the election commission.
Voters will be sent to a special page with an alert about the violation before being able to vote. The page will link to the election commission’s statement, which will serve as a “fact check” for students who may have read Safdari’s e-mail, Election Commissioner Paul David Shrader said. Shrader added that the statement will serve as the extent of the punishment.
The voting Web site currently features the entire election commission statement, but after meeting with McGee and three other members of his campaign early Friday morning, the commission decided to simply notify students that the violation occurred.
Students can decide whether or not to read about the violation before voting, Shrader said. “We’re just trying to think of what’s equitable and fair for all candidates involved.”
In his e-mail, Safdari alleged that the Pulte campaign had “either hacked into the website or had an in at the election commission giving them real-time results so they knew how many votes they needed to be on top at any given time.” He also said that the Pulte campaign arranged for an e-mail to be sent alleging that McGee and Smithburg would cut funding for Mayfest and A&O by 20 percent.
“You cannot in good conscience sit still to let this prick ascend to the presidency of the student body,” he said in the e-mail.
In a statement released Friday, the McGee-Smithburg campaign said, “Tommy and I, nor any key decision maker of the campaign, have at no point endorsed or encouraged any smears of any campaign. We were not aware of this email until outsiders forwarded it to us. Unfortunately, Mo Safdari made a bad decision based on false assumptions, a decision which he clearly regrets. Put simply, smears and politics have no place in ASG or the ASG elections.”
Contacted before the ruling, at 10:40 p.m. on Thursday night, McGee said he saw the e-mail but that his campaign had nothing to do with it.
“Our main focus is to get to as many people as possible” to convince students to vote for him, McGee said at the time. He called it “unfortunate,” but added “I definitely don’t condemn it. We’re all students, we all make mistakes.”
“As far as we know [the e-mail] was not endorsed by McGee or crafted by McGee in any way,” Shrader said. “[However] the campaign is responsible for the members who are working on the campaign.”
Safdari was elected academic director with 84.4 percent of the vote on Thursday.
Safdari issued a second e-mail later in the day Thursday, in which he acknowledged that some of his accusations were “to degrees not true.”
“My e-mail was primarily motivated by my outrage against the use of laptops going door to door, the latter points were more speculative than definitive,” he said in the second e-mail.
Safdari has not yet responded to multiple requests for comment.
Reached for comment early Friday, Pulte said, “We’re moving on from it, we’re letting people know that we’re going to deliver for them, and hopefully my opponent’s actions will speak for themselves.”
In a phone interview, Pulte’s running mate Patrick Dawson said that the election commission’s statement “sufficiently addresses the problem.”
“I would expect the same on our end,” he said.
Accusations of foul play have been thrown on all sides since the first round of the elections. Shrader made phone calls to Pulte after reports that members his campaign team had gone around dorms late Tuesday night with laptops to convince students to vote on the spot.
“What we made clear during the candidate information session is that no voting booths would be allowed [...] because we didn’t want anybody voting with somebody else,” Shrader said. “There was some confusion apparently, especially with Bill’s campaign, that going around with a laptop would count as a voting booth. However I verified that with Bill at about 12:45 a.m., and I again reiterated it when I saw that he had sent out an e-mail saying he was 40 votes ahead that also mentioned going around with your laptop.”
Vice-presidential candidate Tommy Smithburg voiced concerned over the use of laptops by the Pulte-Dawson campaign team.
“When it comes to the laptop thing, it was made very clear at the info session whether or not we could do it, and the answer is no, you could not do this, so it is a strategy we did not pursue,” the Weinberg junior said. “We definitely heard a lot of reports that the Pulte campaign was doing it, and the only thing we have to say is that we’re disappointed.”
However, Shrader noted that in campaigns with a large number of supporters, it could be hard to determine if teams were actually responsible for violations.
Pulte declined to comment in response to these accusations, stating that he and his team were “trying to run a campaign, we’re running it legally, we’re doing everything by the guidelines.”
Shrader added that both campaigns have been accused of “misinformation,” notably using unsubstantiated numbers to convince students to vote on Wednesday.
International Studies Residential College resident Peter Skopec told a reporter on Wednesday evening that Pulte told him “he was about 15 votes behind and that he would like my vote.” Skopec said that Pulte added that he “can be one of the 15 that makes a difference.”
According to Shrader, Pulte sent out an e-mail to his team early Wednesday afternoon claiming that he had a 40 vote lead, a fact Shrader refuted.
“I was the only person who had access to any of the results,” Shrader said, adding that the numbers used by Pulte were “not true,” as Pulte had around an 100-point lead throughout much of the day until two hours before the polls closed.
Pulte told Shrader that he had used numbers as a “motivation tool” for his campaign. But the McGee-Smithburg campaign followed his lead.
“We had heard that Bill was saying that [he had a 40-vote lead], and the way we reacted was ‘Well, we’re not sure if it’s 100 percent true, but if it is, then we should get it out there,’” Smithburg said. “While it may have been a lie, I think it definitely got both campaigns pushing just a little bit harder than they already were.”
Outgoing President Neal Sales-Griffin met with the election commission before they issued the statement, and with McGee and the election commission after the statement was issued. Sales-Griffin said he was serving as a neutral, “outside resource.”
Though Safdari’s initial e-mail implied that Sales-Griffin was campaigning with McGee, “I’m staying neutral,” Sales-Griffin said.
“My advice to both of the campaigns has been to take the high ground. Focus on your message, focus on going door to door,” Sales-Griffin said. “If they get caught up and distracted with all the negativity, all they’re doing is shooting themselves in the foot.”
“It’s a very emotional time for a lot of people, so they just need to get over those things and campaign.”
Below is the McGee-Smithburg campaign’s response:
Dear friends and supporters,
Tommy and I are extremely disappointed over the recent events. Tommy and I, nor any key decision maker of the campaign, have at no point endorsed or encouraged any smears of any campaign. We were not aware of this email until outsiders forwarded it to us. Unfortunately, Mo Safdari made a bad decision based on false assumptions, a decision which he clearly regrets. Put simply, smears and politics have no place in ASG or the ASG elections.
We, as students, must Expect More from our experience at Northwestern. Integrity and honesty must always be unquestionable in your student government and your elected officials. Our elections should be fair and respectful to not only the candidates but to the student body as well. We encourage you to look past the recent events and look forward to an ASG that focuses on working for you.
Mike & Tommy