Lawsuit accuses Cal State campus of illegal political campaigning
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. filed a lawsuit Thursday morning against a California State University campus, accusing the institution of illegally using taxpayer resources to promote Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for a ballot measure that would raise taxes.
The lawsuit comes amid a running dispute between antitax activists and the Cal State system over the extent to which university officials can go in encouraging students to vote for Proposition 30.
The complaint, filed in Monterey County Superior Court, targets the Monterey Bay campus. It accuses the school’s humanities department of sending an email to students that urges them to “work together to pass Prop. 30.” The email cited by the plaintiffs also noted that students could get a tuition refund of nearly $500 if the measure is approved.
The email, the lawsuit says, was sent from a university email address and signed by the department director.
“This campaign mailing violates the constitutional rights of taxpayers and students whose tax dollars and student fees are being misused to promote a political cause which they do not support,” Jon Coupal, president of the taxpayers group, said in a statement. “This is one more example of those inside government who are taking advantage of their taxpayer-funded positions to force their political beliefs upon students.”
A CSU representative was not immediately available for comment.
[Updated at 11:13 a.m. Oct. 18: In a statement released later, CSU general counsel Christine Helwick, acknowledged that the email sent by the Monterey Bay professor "was inappropriate and unfortunate."
"It was sent by him as an individual, and not on behalf of the institution," the statement said. "We have previously reminded faculty and staff that it is not permissible to use state resources including classroom time for any political advocacy. This email clearly crossed that line and the campus is taking appropriate personnel action."]
The lawsuit comes after the university system advised tens of thousands of student applicants that it was delaying admission decisions this fall until after the election, noting that if Proposition 30 fails fewer students may be accepted.
University officials also sent a letter to faculty advising them to stop campaigning for the measure in the classroom. Also, a Cal State Fresno professor riled fiscal conservatives when word got out that he directed students to make the case for Proposition 30 as part of an exam.
-- Evan Halper in Sacramento