Student Association members have used at least $7,000 in student funds over the last year to buy food and host events at upscale restaurants, according to financial records.
The practice of using student funds for private events was first criticized last month, when several senators called out President Omar Woodard for spending $414 over the summer on an eight-person dinner at a pricey Georgetown restaurant.
Initially, Woodard would not release any financial records, including receipts from his dinner at Sequoia. He later made available financial records detailing SA officials’ spending from the last three years. Woodard and his colleagues also reimbursed the SA for the dinner.
Since December 2003, when records show the pricey food expenditures began, SA officials have spent hundreds of dollars at outings to Old Ebbitt Grill and two sushi bars, among other places. In addition, officials dropped more than $5,000 for their annual transition dinner at Georgetown’s Four Seasons hotel. Some members later reimbursed the SA for their transition dinner meal.
Last year’s SA Student Court spent more than $500 on three meals, including a $338 dinner at a sushi bar and a $150 dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill, according to documents.
Eric Daleo, who served as executive vice president as a senior last year, spent $1,000 on two events at the University Club using his P-Card, a GW payment card that charges expenses directly to the SA’s account.
The card, which was introduced several years ago, is issued to some faculty and staff members who make authorized purchases with GW funds. Last year, Daleo and then-SA President Kris Hart were the first student government officials to use the payment system.
Daleo, now a graduate student and Student Court member, defended the U-Club events as useful functions to promote good relations among SA members. Daleo did not comment on a $70 “transition breakfast” at Tony and Joe’s that, according to financial records, he paid for with his P-Card.
“This was the third annual of its kind,” Daleo wrote in an e-mail about a $600 April U-Club reception for 40 SA members. “It provides an opportunity for old and new senators to get together in an informal way to review failures and accomplishments of the year previous and gives new senators the opportunity to meet outgoing senators.”
Hart said, “We never spent money irresponsibly, in my opinion, and we spent half of our time trying to fix the financial problems of the SA and the University over the last couple years.”
Katherine Lou Baxter, chief judge of the SA Court, also called the dinners a legitimate use of student funding.
“All of our meetings serve a specific purpose,” Baxter, a second-year member of the court, said. “The dinners aren’t the only meetings we have. We had several other meetings to discuss issues that were not expenses of the court.”
Other SA members accused the Student Court and other SA groups of improperly using student funds to buy food. A member closely affiliated with the Student Court who requested anonymity said that when the court goes out to dinners, some members pay for their share of the dinner while other members bill the meal to the court’s budget. This year’s total SA budget is about $471,000.
University officials would not comment directly on SA expenditures, saying they did not know specific information about whether the money was used to pay for private events.
“If it’s a business use, depending on the nature of the meeting, it may or may not be appropriate spending,” said Johnnie Osborne, associate vice president and chief financial officer of Student Academic Support Services, which monitors SA spending. “It’s all open to interpretation. There are business uses of funds where food is a component, but what the SA has done in terms of meals I just cannot speak to because I don’t know exactly.”
Louis Katz, executive vice president and treasurer, said SA officials should develop a standard, or price limit, by which to judge transactions.
“I would probably prefer that the SA themselves come up with a measure that’s accountable,” he said, noting that people have different beliefs about what constitutes reasonable spending.
Katz said select SA members were given P-Cards to ease the expenditure approval process. Before the SA president and EVP received cards last year, Katz said, organization members spent their own money on events and were later reimbursed with money from the SA fund, which GW oversees. Leaders of other student organizations also have P-Cards.
This year, Woodard and EVP Anyah Dembling have P-Cards but have not used them to pay for meals. Hart used his P-Card once last year on a $135 purchase of supplies at the GW bookstore.
The University is reviewing P-Card use by faculty, staff and students to determine whether some people have spent money unnecessarily, Katz said. He added that some P-Cards may be taken away from users who have abused the system.
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.