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Con Court Denies Conflict of Interest Charges Against Gulley

It’s official: there is no law in the ASUO constitution against blatant conflict of interest. The Constitutional Court of the ASUO ruled today that Senator Nate Gulley was not in violation of the ASUO constitution when he voted  “aye” on a special request for $2,000 which paid for him to travel to Washington DC as a member of a United States Student Association delegation. The courts ruling  denied the grievance filed by myself, by ignoring the obviousness of the violation  and by shunning the numerous constitutional interpretations which could have done justice to the situation. The courts ruling was timid and inconsistent, picking and choosing precedent in order to avoid the obviousness of the violation.


The cornerstone of my grievance was article 4 S 6, which states Conflict of interest prohibited. No member holding an elected position on the Student Senate, the ASUO Programs Finance Committee, the Athletic Department Finance Committee, or the EMU Board may vote on the budget of any ASUO or EMU program in which they will be holding a paid position during the year the fiscal budget is in effect. This section shall be construed so as to prohibit conduct that creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, as well as an actual conflict of interest.” The opinion of the court begins by stating that “Article 4 § 6 of the ASUO Constitution is perhaps one of the most confusing and vague passages of the entire document” due to its narrow prohibition in sentence two, and broadly interpretable clauses in sentences 1 and 3. The court then goes on to overrule its own precedent from 1997(Berwick v. Wisch), in which the broad interpretations were used to find a Senator guilty of” the appearance conflict of interest,” simply ruling that “The Court finds the conclusion reached in this case to be in error.” What follows is a lengthy history of section 4 S 6, which in effect limits the broad clauses (sentences 1 and 3) to cases covered by the narrow definition (sentence 2). Lengthy analysis of the history and evolution of section 4 S 6 simply obfuscate the fundamental point: IF THEY ONLY APPLY TO THE ONE EXPLICIT PROSCRIPITION, WHY IN THE FUCK WERE THESE BROADLY INTERPRETABLE CLAUSES PUT INTO THE CONSTITUTION IN THE FIRST PLACE??? Yes, Mr Justices, the narrow clause has been altered, but the broad clauses have always been there, for the simple reason that the framers wanted to be able to proscribe obvious cases of conflict of interest without enumerating every possible permutation of such conflict. By overruling existing precedent which allows the Con Court to use these broad clauses as the framers intended, Con Court effectively legislates these clauses out of our functional jurisprudence. 

 It goes without saying that the ASUO Con Court has precedent which rules both ways on this. The court cites several cases in which the “narrow only” definition is upheld, including most recently the case of Mann v. Morales, in which then OC Editor Thomas Mann charged that IFC member Armando Morales had violated Article 4 § 6 of the ASUO Constitution during a meeting of the IFC by arguing in favor of, and voting for, an increase in the budget of the USSA, a group which he was the vice chair of. Mann maintained that although Morales was not being paid in cash for his position in the program, he had participated in a trip to Washington D.C. partially funded from the programs budget and this was a form of payment. Furthermore Mann argued that Morales violated the third sentence of Article 4 § 6 by creating at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Apparently, the wierd parallels were more than the Con Court could overlook, and upheld the decision in that case, that the court “is not empowered” to change the admittedly “very narrow definition of a conflict.” Mr Mann, if you are out there, we need to have a beer sometime… this shit is crazy.

My grievance also charged Gulley with violating Senate Rule 2,3 which requires meetings be run according to Roberts Rules of Order. This was included to provide more examples of conflict of interest than are found in the ASUO constitution, thus giving extra weight to my emphasis of the broad clauses of ASUO Constitution 4 S 6. Needless to say, the Con Court simply looked to the wording to find any way to do nothing about the situation. Roberts only states that “members should abstain,” and that they cannot be compelled to vote, despite my argument that the “should” language is only intended to explain the following section which includes situations which require this non-binding language. It goes without saying, that Gulleys actions do not fit into this “exceptions clause,” suggesting that he should be held to account.

I could go on and on about this, but let’s face it: the only difference it will make is a dramatic spike in my blood pressure. When I was drafting the grievance, I was shocked by the lack of explicit ethics rules on the books; now that I have put in the work to build the case, I am really not surprised at all that the Con Court simply preferred to pass the buck. The opinion they issued doesn’t begin to  address the fact that Gulley’s conflict came in a vote on a special request, which should have a much more stringent ethical standard for the simple fact that it involves  Senate literally handing out cash. This whole situation is doubly frustrating for me, because unlike some (most?) of the Commentariat before me, I have consistently offered the ASUO the benefit of the doubt and my sincere optimism for the institution, only to end up here. As someone who sits on two Senate committees, and spends more time trying to make things right on this campus than some Senators (without a fucking stipend, thank you) while raising awareness and giving constructive advice and criticism on this blog and in the magazine, I am totally disgusted with this system that I have struggled to help reform. The ASUO desperately needs a body of ethics rules, and guess who’s gonna have to write them up to get it done? Think Senators are gonna leap up and volunteer for this? No fucking way.


  1. Niedermeyer says:

    No, this perception has been around longer than anyone can remember, which is why it’s so damn important that they start doing something about it.

  2. Betz says:

    Wait…you mean there was such a time that they did?

  3. Niedermeyer says:

    Betz, you’ve put your finger on the problem, and that problem is all about perception. Everyone hears about shit like this year after year, and yet nothing is ever done about it. The Con Courts ruling upheld the doctrine that there is only one form of conflict of interest, and that it is constitutionally impossible to prove a conflict of interest in the disbursment of surplus funds.

    The steps taken by Ombudswoman Kinsey show the way for the ASUO to prove that they take this issue seriously, but more needs to be done, including passing comprehensive ethics rules. If this doesn’t happen soon, students will have no choice but to conclude that the ASUO is clueless about how it is perceived, and that it doesn’t give a shit about good governance.

  4. Betz says:

    Although I am an outsider to the ASUO political arena, I do pay attention to whats going on on campus, and this is absolutley rotten. What path of logic was following the justices decision when, instead of recognizing the parallels between the Mann v Morales incident and Gullys’, to instead overrule precedent just to avoid confrontation? I’m sorry, but this just makes me laugh at how ineffective and weak the ASUO really is. If the UO had a…whats the word I’m looking for? O, of course….”GOOD,” or “MEANINGFUL” student government, then BS like this wouldn’t happen, and justices would have the cajones to take action.

    And also, senators would realize that quoting things “for the record” means indefinatly, and that as a representative of a large group of people, that kind of shit just won’t fly.

  5. Niedermeyer says:

    A good place to start would be ORS 244. Unfortunately, my reading of the statute seems to suggest that conflict of interest cannot take place if the beneficiary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Needless to say, if this reading is correct, new ASUO rules would need to cover nonprofits as well.

  6. Jacque says:

    Well I am working on drafting some rule changes specifically addressing conflicts of interest any ideas for some language?… as we speak nothing personal agains gulley but for the record “he can kiss my ass” I love that he called us all racist… that is so laughable.

  7. Senator Toby says:

    Is Wally still on the court?

  8. Doomscheissah says:

    I’d like to know what Wally Hicks has to say about this.

  9. Goward says:

    I am absolutely amazed, and this is coming from someone who has been around a time or two with the Con Court. Last year the ASUO had 17 primary injunctions against it, because of strict interpretation of the Constitution, now the Con Court is throwing out common sense and losing its backbone. I guess in the justice turnover they some how have lost their collective balls, but come on, this is just common sense. Gully should have been sanctioned for a direct violation, plain and simple.

    I never thought I would say it, but I miss the days of Tony (Chief Justice) “fucking legislating” from the court.

  10. Timothy says:

    I am unshocked by this opinion, but also completely livid.

  11. Niedermeyer says:

    Look, the opinion basically says that the only way to have a conflict of interest is to vote on the budget of a program thaat pays you a stipend. As often as that might happens, and as good an idea as it is to prevent it, this does not constitute a comprehensive ethics code for the ASUO. I’m not surprised that no one has given a shit about this so far, but it does need to change. The ASUO is enough of a joke as it is.

  12. Jacque says:

    I like that it is a per curiam decision. this is latin for something like “from the court” but in other words no one person wants to take responsibility for the decision. I think it is clear that Gulley had the discretion to vote if he wanted to but even judges can be sanctioned if they abuse this discretion, which I am afraid Gulley clearly has. I am a little dissapointed in the Con Court and thats not even anything personal against Gulley, I would say the same thing if it were any member of senate…

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