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CSULB professors accused of unethical campaign practices

Two student organizations allege that Rigoberto Rodriguez used a class to benefit the political campaign of Juan Benitez.

Juan+Benitez+won+the+school+board+seat+on+June+5.+The+students%27+complaint+is+still+under+review+by+the+California+Fair+Political+Practices+Commission.
Juan Benitez won the school board seat on June 5. The students' complaint is still under review by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Juan Benitez won the school board seat on June 5. The students' complaint is still under review by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Juan Benitez's website

Juan Benitez's website

Juan Benitez won the school board seat on June 5. The students' complaint is still under review by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

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The Fair Political Practices Commission is currently reviewing a complaint against two Cal State Long Beach professors, one of whom is running for office in the city.

The complaint argues that Rigoberto Rodriguez and Juan Benitez, both professors for the Chicano and Latino studies department, used public resources to promote a partisan cause — Benitez’s campaign for a seat on the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education.

It also suggests that, because of this, a rule regarding campaign contributions may have been violated. The complaint notes that the students “are not experts on the law” and thus ask the FPPC to investigate if laws were violated.

Benitez gained more votes than his two opponents in the April 10 primary but did not win more than 50 percent of votes, which lead to a runoff election on June 5. Benitez won that election with 62.38 percent of the vote.

The complaint was filed by Chicano and Latino studies major Nathan Carbajal on behalf of La Raza Student Association and the university’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and takes issue with an “alternative assignment” which Rodriguez gave to his CHLS 350 class.

The assignment sheet shows that Rodriguez’s class was offered a required community service credit if they assisted the Teachers Association of Long Beach in an active school board campaign. Along with promoting one candidate, the student groups took issue with this being done in exchange for mandatory credit.

Though the sheet uses the term “candidates” and does not reference Benitez specifically, it does link to a page on TALB’s website, which currently promotes Benitez only. The association endorsed Benitez in September.

Jay Wierenga, communications director for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, stated that the complaint filed by the student groups is still under review. The complaint could either be dismissed or lead to an investigation.

“Any investigation will take its form and shape based on evidence and facts found, so any investigation may take on new issues based on new information and facts, or conversely [the FPPC] may discard an issue based on the facts and information uncovered,” Wierenga said in an email.

Wierenga said that once a decision is made, a letter stating the FPPC’s course of action will be sent to all parties involved in the allegations and become publicly available on the commission’s website.

The complaint was made against both professors and the CSULB Center for Community Engagement, which Benitez heads as the executive director. The student organizations’ statement says that this center is “responsible for coordinating service learning” at the university.

“I don’t have any knowledge of anyone forcing anyone to do anything as a volunteer,” Chris Callopy, executive director of TALB, told FORTHE Media.

Carbajal states that the issue was first detailed in a separate complaint made to the university by a student in CHLS 350. In an email, Carbajal stated this student was not speaking with media “as they fear reprisals.”

Terri Carbaugh, associate vice president of public affairs at CSULB, told FORTHE Media that the university “looked into it and haven’t found any wrongdoing as it relates to these allegations.”

Carbaugh, Benitez and Rodriguez were not able to be reached for comment on this matter at the time of publication.

This story will be updated.

 

A correction regarding a quote attribution was made to this story on June 11. Chris Callopy, not Juan Benitez, spoke to FORTHE Media.

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