DENVER—The Colorado Department of Higher Education has declined to investigate the Obama campaign internship program at Adams State University, saying the issue is moot because the course was cancelled.
Responding to a request for an inquiry by Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, DHE deputy executive director Matt Gianneschi said the state had no authority over the university’s curriculum or course offerings. As for whether Adams State violated legal or ethical strictures, he said the issue was no longer a concern because “no students registered for the course, and thus no state funding was utilized.”
“If the course (GOVT 279) had run and had limited its enrollment to supporters of a particular candidate or party, and had utilized state funding, it would be of concern to the Department and would have required further investigation,” said Gianneschi, DHE deputy in a letter dated Sept. 9.
AFP deputy state director Sean Paige called the response “a double-talk-laden dodge,” and said the group would pursue further action.
“[T]he issue of whether or not a student actually accepted the credits-for-campaigning offer is beside the point,” said Paige in an email. “The offer was made by the university, responding to an ethically questionable request from the Obama campaign, and pulled-down only after a reporter began calling, asking questions, so we don’t know what might have happened if somebody hadn’t blown the whistle.”
College campuses are friendly locales for President Obama, but critics say Adams State crossed the line by briefly offering a course entitled, “Obama Campaign Internship,” which would have given students college credit for volunteering on the president’s reelection campaign.
Adams State officials removed the online post from the university’s website shortly after a story about the course appeared Aug. 29 in Campus Reform, a conservative student blog.
In a Sept. 6 letter, Americans for Prosperity-Colorado asked Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to conduct an expedited investigation into whether the university violated Colorado law by using public resources to advance a partisan political campaign.
“Coloradoans have a right to know whether the Obama campaign succeeded in convincing a taxpayer-funded university to offer college credits to students engaged in partisan political activities, and to know who at the school, or higher-up in the education hierarchy, may have known about, or approved, such a scheme,” AFP-Colorado executive director Jeff Crank says in the letter to Garcia, who heads the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
Adams State spokeswoman Julie Waechter said the idea for the course came from the Obama campaign, which contacted the university to propose the internship. She said the university did try to balance out the offering by having a graduate-student advisor contact the Republican side, but that the Romney presidential campaign declined to participate.
Waechter stressed that no public funds would have been used to pay interns working for the campaign, although the students would have received course credit.
“There have been a lot of suggestions and implications about this that are really unfounded,” said Waechter.
She noted that giving students opportunities to volunteer as interns for political figures isn’t unusual. Adams State, along with many other universities, offers internships in congressional offices and other politically tinted workplaces as part of its regular curriculum; one student is now interning for Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, she said.
“They seem to be missing that—that this is normal,” said Waechter.
But critics say there’s a difference between interning for a congressional office and working for a campaign. The Colorado Fair Practices Act forbids the use of public funds for “campaigns involving the nomination, retention or election of any person to any public office.”
Waechter blamed the hubbub on a disgruntled university employee. “This started out because an employee of ours who’s a Tea Partier put this on his blog alleging we were paying students to work for the Obama campaign, which is not true,” she said.
The course was advertised as a “12-week long organizing internship” for the Obama reelection effort. Students would have been required to put in 15 hours per week and attend an all-day training session Sept. 20.
“The program offers high-level campaign organizer training and in-depth involvement in one of the closest and most expensive presidential races in recent history,” says the now-defunct announcement, which was posted Aug. 23 and linked by the Daily Caller website.
In his letter, Crank urged the lieutenant governor to respond quickly to the request for an inquiry. The election is Nov. 6, less than two months away.
“Coloradans also have a right to know the complete story when such information is still relevant, as in during this campaign,” says Crank.