Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Conservative Candidates for Student Government Get Hidden Help

One nonprofit organization is determined to see more conservatives on student election ballots at colleges and universities across the country. Turning Point USA is getting conservative students active in campus politics by providing them with everything from campaign T-shirts to on-the-ground workers to help sustain their runs for office.

According to one investigative article, Turning Point representatives have even asked these students to under-report the financial or advisory support they have received from the organization, sometimes telling students even not to mention the nonprofit’s involvement at all. The investigation by The Chronicle of Higher Education found, for example, that at the University of Oregon, Turning Point helped organize a slate of conservative candidates who rang up $14,950 in T-shirt costs, and also took out a week’s worth of half-page ads in the student newspaper to bolster the students’ campaigns.

At The Ohio State University, one student recorded a member of Turning Point attempting to recruit a candidate for a student government race, emphasizing the need for secrecy. “Keep it, like, on the DL,” Alana Mastrangelo, Turning Point’s heartland regional director, said in the recorded phone call obtained by Ohio State’s student paper The Lantern. “Like hard-core on the DL, because Turning Point in general has a huge reputation for being really conservative. They’re starting to call us the alt-right.”

The phone call also mentioned it would pay campaign workers $20 to $50 a day for their work.

The Chronicle investigation found evidence that the organization’s student election influence appeared to help conservative candidates win student government seats at both University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Between the years 2016 and 2017, Turning Point had candidates involved in campaigns at The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Maryland at College Park, University of Oregon, University of South Florida and University of Virginia, though they all either lost or withdrew from their campaigns.

To see if a college or university you’re covering has a chapter on its campus, search the Turning Point directory.

Turning Point is also known for its Professor Watchlist, which hosts a directory of hundreds of professors across the country and their alleged advocacy of a “liberal agenda.”

One professor was put on the list for joking that Donald Trump should kill himself over his environment and climate policies. Another professor landed on the list for an op-ed in The Nation that argued the right to bear arms was a privilege based on race and gender.

Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point, described its role as “the Moveon.org of the right” in his book, Time for a Turning Point. In his book and subsequent interviews, he describes the organization’s role as a counter to the liberal voice that he sees as pervasive on college campuses, and a pushback to the hold Greek life often holds on campus elections.