Members of GW College Democrats under investigation for ‘dirty politics’

Media Credit: Photo by flickr user Gage Skidmore used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Two GW students let a tracker into Thurston Hall to film a College Republicans event that hosted Congressional hopful Carlos Curbelo. The tracker, whose job it is to take videos of a politician's speechs to catch their gaffes, worked for Curberlo’s Democratic opponent Congressman Joe Garcia.

Updated: Oct. 7, 2014 at 11:04 p.m.

Members of GW’s College Democrats chapter are under University investigation for assisting in “dirty politics.”

When the GW College Republicans hosted Florida congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo on Sept. 18, two members of College Democrats reportedly helped sign in a tracker, whose job was to take a video of Curbelo’s speech in case he slipped up. CR Chairman Alex Pollock said the tracker worked for Curberlo’s rival, Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla.

The video taken and and later published the next day in the Miami Herald showed Curbelo criticizing Medicare and Social Security, calling them “Ponzi schemes.” Garcia has now used the remark in an attack ad against him.

The tracker was signed into Thurston Hall by a student with a GWorld card. CD President Connor Schmidt and Pollock said the incident encouraged “dirty politics” and exploited college students’ access to speaker events.

Pollock said he worried that candidates might now hesitate to speak at GW, particularly during campaign seasons.

“A small liberal arts college in the Northeast does not get opportunities like this to host congressional candidates from Florida on a one-day notice, but GW does because of our unique reputation and location,” Pollock said. “I fear that these actions have damaged that reputation, and subsequently harm our ability to draw the very speakers we pride ourselves on.”

The University is investigating the two students and the executive boards of the College Republicans and Democrats to determine who signed in the tracker, Pollock and Schmidt said.

University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said the individuals involved in the case were referred to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. He declined to say which part of the Code of Student Conduct they possibly violated, citing GW’s policy not to comment on ongoing investigations.

Schmidt said the members acted independently of the group’s leadership board. Both Pollock and Schmidt said they were unaware of the incident until the video was picked up by the Miami Herald.

“It wasn’t anything we condoned or helped coordinate or facilitate or work on in any way,” Schmidt said.

The two students, whose names were not disclosed by the University, had worked on Garcia’s campaign over the summer as trackers themselves, Schmidt said. Garcia had come to speak to the College Democrats the previous evening, and after he spoke, members of his campaign approached the two students, asking them to let the tracker in the next day, Schmidt said.

Schmidt, who said he heard about the incident from Pollock, called the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has contacted the Miami Herald to take down or edit the piece. Schmidt said the Democrats do not intend to take any action to punish the members.

Aside from damaging a candidate’s reputation, tracker videos can also violate privacy or raise security concerns, Schmidt and Pollock added. In the Curbelo video, the students who attended the event introduce themselves by name and major.

“This precedent discourages GW students from publicly speaking at high profile events, or even asking questions, for fear of being secretly recorded and published in a major national newspaper,” Pollock said.

-Hatchet reporter Matt Schwartz contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Pollock and Schmidt said the two members were not part of the CD’s leadership board and had acted independently. In fact, Schmidt said the two members acted independently of the executive board. We regret this error.

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