Burdened by more unexpected debt, the Yale Political Union will have to apply for grants more aggressively this year while seeking guests from the New York City area to save on costs, according to senior treasurer Isaiah Schrader ’21.
The YPU accumulated the $3,501 debt last fall. It consists of a $2,225 Woolsey Hall event fee from last September’s debate with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a $786 fee to the Yale Police for covering events and $490 in information technology charges. The YPU borrowed the money from Yale’s Investments Office. To pay back the debt over the course of the next two years, the group will use $875 less per semester from its endowment returns, according to Schrader.
In an executive board meeting last Sunday, Schrader said he was not aware of the debt until he met with the Investments Office regarding an unrelated issue on Sept. 18 this year. Former YPU president and current member of the advisory committee Brian Cashin ’19 had “taken on $3,500 in debt during his Presidency as a ‘fundraising’ measure,” according to the meeting minutes that were shared with the News.
“I ran for treasurer in the aftermaths of budget deficit following the Jindal debate, and we’ve been working to foster a culture of transparency in finance,” Schrader said. “As of now, we are looking to apply for as many grants as possible and reduce the costs of bringing [in] guest speakers.”
In an email to the executive board members last week, Cashin refuted the statement that he had taken on the debt as a “fundraising measure.” The debt accumulated because “that is how Woolsey Hall, Yale Police and Yale media services fees are routed in Yale’s internal billing system,” Cashin argued.
He added that he was not aware of the total cost when he submitted the reservation form for Woolsey Hall in July 2017.
“These invoices had never been sent to me; they were sent to me for the first time this week after I contacted the relevant folks to locate them,” Cashin explained. “If I had received these invoices or any sort of billing statements for these expenses they would have been paid promptly and cleared during my term as president, as were the other bills of the semester; instead they built up over time on the endowment account and have sat there.”
Still, Cashin took responsibility for “not keep[ing] proper track of the expenses” and offered to personally reimburse the group with $3,501.
According to Schrader, executive board members are examining whether accepting a payment from Cashin would be constitutional. Another member of the executive board, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is unlikely that the YPU will accept Cashin’s reimbursement, as $3,501 was part of “a legitimate Union spending.”
Still, he said there was a “breach in trust and transparency” because Cashin did not follow the standard procedure of disclosing the spending to the rest of the board. He added that in the Sunday meeting, YPU president Alexandra Lanier ’20 said she would talk to Cashin about resigning from the advisory committee this week.
In a statement to the News, Lanier said the debt was “a one-time mistake made by a presidential administration from over a year ago.” She added that the incident was not reflective of the YPU’s typical financial practices. Lanier noted that the president now has to get an approval from the executive board on all spending over $500.
The lack of transparency in Cashin’s management of the budget had previously aroused controversy among the executive board members of the YPU. According to Cameron Wright ’20, who served as a member of the executive board and the Chairman of the Independent Party this spring, “there were real problems with transparency during that administration.”
Under Cashin’s presidency, Jindal’s costly visit to the YPU in September 2017 created a temporary $13,477 budget deficit, prompting finger-pointing within the organization’s executive board last fall.
When planning to bring Jindal to campus, the board operated under the assumption that the YPU would receive a $7,000 grant from the Young America’s Foundation — a political organization committed to inspiring young conservatives. The grant fell through because of a “payment squabble” between the Young America’s Foundation and the Washington Speakers Bureau over a speaking event held elsewhere, Cashin explained.
In an interview with the News last January, a member of the fall semester’s executive board called the situation an “emotional rollercoaster” that led to a firestorm of criticism towards Cashin.
“The YPU culture is very much conniving and backhanded,” another member of the board said. “It made the fallout from Cashin’s management a nightmare.”
Facing pressure from the executive board about the $13,477 deficit, Cashin initiated what he called in budget reports “The Great CA$HIN Turnaround,” setting out to reverse the deficit with alternative grants and funding that eventually created a budget surplus. On Nov. 12, he announced that YPU’s net income for the fall semester was no longer negative and had reached $224.34 as a result of additional grants.
According to Schrader, this semester the YPU received $2,000 from the Traphagen Alumni Speakers Series, $1,000 from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and $440 from the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism. Schrader added that he also applied for a grant 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.
In an email to the executive board members of YPU on Monday, vice president Spencer Parish ’20 announced that YPU will be debating Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein next Thursday. On Oct. 30, conservative author and commentator Michelle Malkin who works for Fox News, MSNBC and C-Span will be visiting, Parish added.
While the guests for this term have been finalized, Schrader said Parish is keeping the YPU’s “financial difficulties in mind” as he arranges guest speakers for next semester.
“Regardless of the budget situation, there will be no changes to our guest list this semester,” Schrader said. “But the current vice president is responsible for finding guests for next semester and has our financial situation in mind. He is looking to keep the transportation costs low, rather than getting someone from California.”
The Yale Political Union claims to be the oldest and largest collegiate debate union in America.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org .