University of Minnesota student leaders criticized members of the school's Board of Regents on Friday for contributing money to a political action committee that has been accused of trying to influence the Legislature's election of new regents, calling the donations a "thinly veiled effort by board members to pick their future colleagues."
Student leaders addressed the board directly and sent letters to lawmakers denouncing the Maroon and Gold Rising PAC. They asked the regents who contributed to the PAC — Ken Powell, Richard Beeson, Janie Mayeron and David McMillan — to no longer donate and called for the state Campaign Finance Board to investigate the PAC's actions.
"Regent appointments are the only avenue by which the Legislature can exercise oversight and hold the university administration accountable," Jael Kerandi, student representative to the regents, said during a Friday board meeting. "Current members of the Board of Regents do not and should not have any role in selecting potential colleagues. … This is in clear violation of our university's values."
Powell, the board's chairman, did not respond to Kerandi's remarks and quickly moved on to the next agenda item.
Altogether, Powell, Beeson, Mayeron and McMillan have contributed $8,500 to the PAC. The four regents did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The U's 12 regents are tasked with approving major policies such as tuition increases and an annual budget of about $4 billion. Every two years, the Legislature elects new regents to unpaid, staggered six-year terms. The House and Senate will meet Monday to elect four regents.
Maroon and Gold Rising, a group led by former regents and U donors, has come under scrutiny for contacting lawmakers, some of whom it made campaign contributions to, about the regent elections. In recent interviews and statements to the Star Tribune, the group's leaders acknowledged sharing their opinions of regent candidates with lawmakers. But they argued they were speaking for themselves and not on behalf of the political action committee they lead.
Republican state Rep. Brian Daniels told the Star Tribune a Maroon and Gold member asked him earlier this year which regent candidates he supported and then offered him a campaign contribution. Daniels said it felt like he was "getting milked for information."
Student leaders also noted that two people who work with Maroon and Gold Rising sit on an independent council that recruits and recommends regent candidates to the Legislature. "This is a clear conflict of interest," student leaders wrote in their letter to lawmakers.
The students urged lawmakers who received donations from the PAC to return the money and refuse future contributions to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety." Additionally, they asked legislators to reject the candidates they believe were recommended by the PAC.
"No matter the outcome of Monday's vote, it is clear that the Regent selection process is broken. It is ineffective, inaccessible, and clearly very susceptible to the influence of moneyed special interests," the students wrote. They called on lawmakers to reform the election process.
Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234