Money in politics: how off-campus groups influence UVUSA elections

Reading Time: 5 minutes An investigation conducted by The Review has revealed how off-campus organizations have allegedly influenced UVUSA student elections by supporting candidates since 2016; the “Campus Victory Project” allegedly lies at the center of this circle and has been shown to have supported past and current student body presidents.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

UVUSA student elections have been allegedly influenced by an off-campus organization tied to a partisan non-profit, according to documents and interviews obtained by The Review.

Known as the “Campus Victory Project,” student campaign donation records and leaked pamphlets from C.V.P. conferences have shown a relationship between this organization and UVUSA student elections. Student-elected officials and candidates, past and present, have allegedly received support, tips and donations from C.V.P. in order to run for student government at UVU.

C.V.P. is an organization that, according to its website, “supports aspiring student leaders across every major university in the country.” C.V.P. is tied to a conservative action group called Turning Point USA (TPUSA), which advocates for conservative political causes across the United States.

“Campus Victory Project was born from years of experience working with Student Government Associations (SGAs) across the nation,” a portion of a leaked C.V.P. pamphlet reads. “Most SGAs have been controlled by the left for decades, institutionalizing campus messaging and earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars of student fees to intentionally push a coordinated radical progressive agenda which has dramatically increased since the year 2000.”

“[TPUSA] has embarked on making the largest strategic impact for taking back and fighting the entrenched institution that has hijacked billions of public dollars to promote anti-capitalist, anti-American, anti-semitic and pro-globalist themes,” the pamphlet continues. “Our first and primary goal is to commandeer the top office of Student Body President at each of the most recognizable and influential American universities.”

The pamphlet, which is from 2016, states that C.V.P. ‘s purpose was “to ultimately win back every Division I NCAA school in the United States.” It later lays out plans to coordinate with key organizations on college campuses to influence “the majority” of votes and to recruit “reliable activists” to be placed in key leadership positions to “prepare them to run for Student Body President.”

Mike Erickson, student director of the Herbert Institute of Public Policy, was one of these students who were approached by a regional consultant for C.V.P. and was asked about their interest in running for student government.

“They try to recruit students, from what I can tell, conservative leaning students,” Erickson stated. “I was first introduced to campus victory through one of my colleagues at the state legislature. … I was closely associated with other interns in house majority leadership. … One of them is ‘K.D.’”

Keimon Dixson (K.D.) is the current regional representative of C.V.P. in Utah. Through these regional representatives, C.V.P. sends money and support to individual campaigns across the state. The Review attempted to contact K.D. however he could not be reached for comment.

“[K.D.] did contact me later this last fall [fall of 2022],” Erickson revealed. “He reached out to me a little bit, and just told me about that he was working for [C.V.P.] and was wondering if I was interested in running for student government at UVU.”

Erickson wished to make clear that he is in favor of what C.V.P. is doing in terms of their mission. He later explained that he was offered a fully paid trip to a conference in Tennessee to be trained on how to run for student government and given tips and tricks to win his election. He was later told by others he knew, who were associated with C.V.P., that money and other forms of support were supposedly offered to UVU candidates.

“That is just a part of the game,” Erickson remarked about C.V.P. ‘s campaign contributions. “When it comes to politics, or when it comes to higher ed, and basically everything, everything is about money.”

This kind of support is not unknown to UVU’s campus. Within the pamphlet referenced earlier, victories are listed with associated students who won their races. Within the academic year of 2016-2017, Rob Smith, UVU student body president at the time, is listed among these victories. It is currently unclear what relationship Smith had with C.V.P. The Review has not been able to contact Smith.

“Collectively, these select leaders that we have supported and financed will have direct oversight and influence over more than $500 million in university tuition and student fee appropriations,” The pamphlet reads as a part of their “winning strategy.”

The pamphlet lists C.V.P. ‘s budgeting for the program, and according to this, campaign financing and travel expenditures for each race cost the organization $5,500 back in 2016.

“All [C.V.P.] did for me was give me a few tips and donate to my campaign,” current Student Body President Lexi Soto stated when asked about a donor that contributed to her campaign. 

Documents that were released to The Review showed that Soto received a campaign contribution from a man by the name of Porter Casdorph, who was the C.V.P. regional consultant for Utah back in 2022 when Soto had ran for student body president. The document lists a description of the donation as, “Donation specifically to help with Lexi’s personal campaign expenditures.”

The record lists no amount for the donation, and Soto declined to say how much the contribution was. The UVUSA elections packet of rules does not require candidates to list these amounts, nor does it cap expenditures by the campaign. Documents of the election committee’s proceedings in 2022 show that giveaways by Soto and others were controversial among other candidates, who questioned how ethical those giveaways were.

The Review reached out to Casdorph for a comment, but he declined.

“I think with any organization that is wanting to provide assistance in a student election you need to be cautious,” Marisssa King, Sr. Director of Student Leadership, stated in regards to C.V.P.. King specifies that any time students are approached by these organizations, the students should be asking if the organization supports the student’s values, if there is a catch to the organization’s support, and if the organization is willing to carry on the relationship after a student’s win.

The Review asked King about whether she would feel comfortable with C.V.P. influencing student elections.

“I wouldn’t say I’d be comfortable, but I also wouldn’t say I was uncomfortable,” King remarked. “I would definitely have questions, and throughout the year I would be mindful of it and how their involvement with an outside organization is potentially impacting their decisions.” King continued that the hope for any student leader is to be professionally mature and to consider everything in a decision, while making sure they remain unbiased in that action.

King pointed out that other groups have offered to do a variety of things for candidates over the years; however, she had not heard of C.V.P. before.

C.V.P. ’s influence through candidate donations is not isolated. Investigations conducted by student newspapers across the country have shown similar operations being conducted by C.V.P., places like the University of Kansas, Washington State University, and Florida Atlantic University. Within the C.V.P. pamphlet, other notable Utah universities such as Brigham Young University, Utah State University and the University of Utah are races to “target” for C.V.P..

The Review made efforts to contact C.V.P. for comment and clarification; however, no message has been received at the time of writing.

UVUSA Super Saturday occurred Feb. 18, where student body hopefuls began their campaigns and set up campaign material throughout UVU. Campaign tabling and voting will occur from Feb. 27-Mar. 3. It is currently unclear if C.V.P. is sponsoring any one candidate within the race.

For more information on the UVUSA election process and candidates, visit their website.