By Ellen Siefke | Staff Writer
Last week, the Newswire published an article about contact between Thomas Wehby, then a candidate for Student Government Association (SGA) Executive, and an individual affiliated with the Campus Leadership Project (CLP). This week, we explain what CLP is and how it has impacted other universities.
What is the Campus Leadership Project?
A subset of conservative group Turning Point USA (TPUSA), CLP aims to “identify, recruit and fill” key leadership positions — such as student government president — on college campuses, according to a brochure leaked in 2017 outlining the project. The project aims to gain control of student government budgets, looking to access more than $500 million in tuition and student fee appropriations.
“(This project is) 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 document states.
Essentially, CLP aims to put more conservative or conservative-leaning students in significant leadership roles to combat what it deems efforts by the left to use student government access to budgets, campus messaging and student fees to push “radically progressive” agendas.
During its first phase, the project targeted schools in the so-called “Power 5” conferences. Currently, according to the document, the project is in its second phase, turning its eye toward every Division I school in the country and more than 100 universities in swing states with the 2020 election looming. The projected cost of phase II is more than $2 million.
That’s why Xavier was approached — Ohio is considered a swing state by the project, so schools like Xavier and the University of Cincinnati are on the list.
How does it work?
The organization utilizes a team of field staffers to recruit, train and run candidates for office. The team includes the National Victory Director, two Deputy National Victory Directors, Quartermasters who oversees efforts at four to eight colleges and Victory Directors, who serve as recruiters and campaign managers at 10 to 15 schools each.
Staffers also seek to reach students in areas of influence like positions within senates, Greek life and residential life.
Once a candidate is successfully put in office, a six-part plan is implemented. This plan entails a variety of measures: an audit of student tuition and fees budgets; the defunding of 501(c)3 and (c)4 organizations that claim official student organization status and thus receive funding; the implementation of “free speech policies;” demanding opt-out options for student services and fees; and the development of a national speaker circuit and tour, among other measures.
Again, these measures aim to control budgets, funded in part by student fees, so as to increase the presence of conservative groups and speakers on campus while simultaneously defunding other groups deemed to have “anti-American,” “anti-free speech” or “anti-Israel” agendas.
Xavier’s Office of Student Involvement said that these measures would be impossible to implement on campus because of a system of checks and balances.
On its website, CLP says it provides scholarships and resources to students identified as having leadership potential so they can obtain influential positions on campus and in their communities. It says it has provided more than 100 scholarships to individuals on more than 1,000 campuses since 2011.
What has it done at other schools?
Xavier was not the only area campus that was recently approached by CLP. The Miami Student reported that two members of its Student Government were offered scholarships and mentorship from CLP. Neither student responded to the emails.
In addition, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that candidates at Ohio State University and the University of Maryland at College Park dropped out after it was revealed that they received donations from CLP. The Chronicle also identified at least a dozen colleges whose student government elections included candidates who were members of TPUSA, were endorsed by TPUSA or received campaign assistance from TPUSA in 2017.
Since then, three other university’s student newspapers besides the Miami Student and the Newswire have reported that TPUSA’s attempted to influence elections with varying degrees of success.
CLP cites a success story at the University of Colorado Boulder. At Colorado, CLP “built an infrastructure of conservative, pro-free speech students” who influenced the Board of Regents and local lawmakers to shift on-campus free speech policies. In April 2017, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill eliminating “free speech zones” designated areas in which students can engage in expressive activities like protests.