Yale Political Union

After taking photos with the officers of the Yale Political Union following a guest debate where he held forth on the flaws of single-payer health care systems on Sep. 5 of last year, Gov. Bobby Jindal departed Yale by private car to stay — according to what three members of last semester’s YPU executive board heard from their President during a board meeting — at the luxury St. Regis Hotel in New York.

As Jindal spoke, some members of the union’s executive board noticed that the Young American Foundation — a conservative political advocacy group that was supposed to sponsor the high-cost event — had not placed its advertising hoardings in Woolsey Hall, as is standard practice at speaking events the foundation sponsors. Executive board members wondered: How are we going to pay for this?

Their concerns proved justified. Jindal’s costly visit to the YPU — compounded by the lack of a YAF grant to help pay for it — created a temporary $13,477 budget deficit, prompting finger-pointing within the organization’s executive board last semester. The deficit was ultimately resolved by the efforts of the Yale Political Union’s fall semester president, Brian Cashin ’19, who replaced the lost funds with grants, donations and sponsorship deals.

In December, Cashin handed over the reins of the YPU to newly elected President Julian Assele ’20, a fellow member of the Federalist Party. But the political tensions and personal feuds that developed on the executive board as a result of Cashin’s budget management left a mark. Asked to comment on the budgetary crisis, Assele told the News that changes are on the way now that the executive board has turned over.

“I am excited for the new e-board and a fresh semester,” said Assele, who declined to comment explicitly on the budget controversy. “My priorities as of now are to work with my e-board to make Union more inclusive, engaging and free of any politicking.”

Cashin did not respond to multiple requests for comment after he sent a message to the News in early December expressing his distrust of the intentions behind this story. Earlier, Cashin told the News that the YPU eventually obtained the funding to make up the cost for Jindal, but he did not comment on any specifics.

The budgetary crisis began in the spring of 2017, when Cashin arranged for Jindal to come to the YPU; at the time, Cashin was still the organization’s vice president, responsible for booking future speakers. Most YPU guests stay at New Haven hotels, but the terms the YPU reached with Jindal allowed the Louisiana politician to stay at the St. Regis Hotel and travel from New York City to campus by car. Cashin maintains that he only paid for Jindal stay at a Hilton Hotel in New York, but a high-ranking member of last semester’s YPU executive board confirmed that Cashin himself said in a meeting that part of the $4,053 paid specifically for accommodating Jindal went toward a room at the St. Regis Hotel. In addition to the $4,053 spent on accommodations for Jindal, the visit cost the debate organization an additional $10,257 in “unexpected” expenditures, including a speaking fee. The next most expensive speaker cost $1,761.  The document does not list any guest speakers other than Jindal as having cost the YPU additional funds beyond transportation, dinner subsidies and accommodations.

Cashin’s plan to bring Jindal to Yale operated under the assumption that the YPU would receive a $7,000 grant from the YAF, a political organization committed to inspiring young conservatives.

But before Jindal arrived at the YPU debate on Sept. 5, the YAF informed Cashin that it would not send grant money to help cover the costs. In a November email to the YPU executive board, Cashin explained that the grant had fallen through because of a “payment squabble” between the YAF and the Washington Speaker’s Bureau over a speaking event held elsewhere.

“While we were unable to assist in the funding of the Yale Political Union’s lecture with Governor Bobby Jindal, Young America’s Foundation has enjoyed working with the YPU in the past to put conservative speakers, including Senator Rick Santorum, in front of Yale student audiences,” YAF spokesman Spencer Brown told the News. “We look forward to an opportunity to collaborate with the Yale Political Union in the future as we work to bring intellectual diversity and conservative leaders to America’s campuses.”

The rest of the YPU executive board did not discover that the YAF had declined to provide the grant money until late October, when the executive board met to review the union’s budget. At the meeting, board members expressed confusion about the missing grant, according to three members of last semester’s board. Cashin revealed a fall 2017 spending deficit of $13,477.67, stemming mainly from Jindal’s expensive speech.

One member of the fall semester executive board called the situation an “emotional rollercoaster” that led to a firestorm of criticism against Cashin.

“The YPU culture is very much conniving and backhanded,” another member of the board told the News. “It made the fallout from Cashin’s management a nightmare.”

Facing pressure from the executive board members about the unforeseen deficit, Cashin initiated what he described in budget reports as “The Great CA$HIN Turnaround,” setting out to reverse the deficit with alternative grants and funding that eventually created a budget surplus.

According to budget reports, Cashin brought the spending deficit down to $4,495 by Nov. 4, as he secured new sources of income, including $3,428 from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, a branch of the Yale College Council that distributes more than $200,000 from the Dean’s Office to student groups on campus each year.

Like Cashin, the chairman of the UOFC, Steven Tian ’20, is a member of the Federalist Party. Tian told the News he was part of a 12-person team that decided to grant Cashin the $3,428 to help resolve the YPU’s budget issues. He said he disclosed his conflict of interest to the rest of the committee before it began deliberating on the grant request.

Other outside sources of income that Cashin secured as part of his funding initiatives included grants from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Leadership Institute, the Poynter Fellowship and the Elm Institute.

On Nov. 12, Cashin announced in an email to the YPU executive board that there was now a budget surplus and that the YPU would finish the fall semester in the black.

“I will be delivering to my successor as President of the Yale Political Union over $4,000 more in the Yale Political Union spending accounts than I inherited from my predecessor,” Cashin wrote.

He also reported that the YPU’s net income for the fall semester was no longer negative and had reached $224.34 as a result of additional grants.

Most current and former YPU executive board members declined to comment for this story or did not respond to requests for comment. YPU Speaker Sandy Pecht ’19 said that last semester’s budget was an “internal YPU issue” and that Cashin and previous Speaker of the YPU Rita Wang ’19 “just want to get on with their lives and move on to new things.”

After the News contacted the outgoing executive board for this story in December, members speculated that the story of the budgetary turnaround had been leaked to the press in an effort to influence the board’s end-of-year election.

“It reads to me like someone is airing dirty laundry to the YDN. Is it for electoral gain? Shits and giggles? Either way, not my problem,” wrote Ariel Murphy ’18, who chaired the Liberal Party in the fall semester, in an email to other board members. Murphy declined to comment for this story.

The Yale Political Union identifies as the oldest and largest collegiate debate union in America.

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu

Clarification, Jan. 20: A previous version of this article stated that Jindal stayed at St. Regis Hotel before the YPU talk. In fact, he traveled to the hotel after the talk. 

Correction, Jan 21: The article has been updated to reflect that the Jindal talk took place on Sep. 5, and that the YPU’s budget crisis started in the spring of 2017.