The UCSB Associated Students’ lawsuit against the University of California Regents looks like it could be lost almost a year after being filed.
UCSB A.S. – and later the UC Berkeley Associated Students Graduate Assembly (ASUCBGA) – filed a lawsuit against the UC Regents last October in an attempt to change the University’s policy forbidding the use of student funds for campaigns supporting a political candidate or issue on a ballot.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California is scheduled to render a decision on the matter on Oct. 27. But based on a prior decision about the case, Christopher Patti, university counsel for the Office of General Counsel, said he thinks the court is likely to rule in favor of the Regents.
Statewide ballot Proposition 76 prompted the suit. The proposition, which was on the ballot in last November’s special election, did not pass. It would have given the governor of California increased control over the state budget – a power that A.S. did not support because of the potential to more easily cut UC funds.
In order to oppose the measure, A.S. passed a resolution on Oct. 5, 2005, earmarking $1,000 of student money to spend opposing Prop 76. According to UCSB A.S. Statewide Affairs Organizing Director Yvonne Tran, the money was not spent, but rather was meant to get the UC Office of the President’s attention.
UC regulations prohibit the use of student money for political campaigning by student government organizations due to a 1976 ruling by the state supreme court. The ruling bars public entities from spending funds to promote a partisan position in an election campaign. Because it is a part of the UC system, which is considered a public entity, the ruling applies to UCSB A.S. and other student governments.
After Leg Council passed its resolution, A.S. filed suit against the UC Regents. ASUCBGA joined the lawsuit after it was filed.
According to a complaint filed with the court last fall, A.S. requested that a temporary restraining order be issued against the University to prevent it from enforcing its policy so A.S. could spend money to oppose Prop 76.
The court denied the request, Patti said. He said courts typically deny such requests when it is unlikely the case will prevail.
Patti said the plaintiffs’ case lacks merit.
“We reject the idea that [ASUCBGA] has a constitutional right, as they claim, to spend fees from other students to pursue their own political objectives,” Patti said. “We think the court’s earlier order indicated that it thinks the University is on the better side of this argument.”
According to Patti, the lawsuit is ongoing, but will not be decided through trial.
“[The University] and the [ASUCBGA] have agreed that it’s likely that this case can be resolved by written motions rather than trial,” Patti said.
Newly elected UCSB A.S. President Jared Goldschen said he thinks the lawsuit is in the best interests of students.
“We are going to look into it more,” Goldschen said. “We should have the ability to use our funds to help students if there are ballot measures that affect [them]. The premise behind what [A.S. was] going for is in the right place.”