On Thursday, Aug. 28, a blog post was published on LeftInAlabama.com and ALReporter.com that accused the University of Montevallo of improper and illegal donation practices.
The post “University of Montevallo, Troy University Contribute to GOP During Election Season”, which has since been taken down on both websites, brought to light monetary transactions between the University of Montevallo and the Cullman County Republican Party (CCRP) in Cullman, Alabama ten months ago.
Author Lee Hedgepeth, formerly of Alabama Political Reporter.com (APR), accused UM of illegally donating $2,000 to the CCRP in November of last year. Hedgepeth also accused Troy University of donating $1,000 to Ward’s campaign in December 2013.
“My job often involved sifting through the details and intricacies of Alabama’s public records, including contribution reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office,” Hedgepeth says. “I was surprised to find that CCRP received what the Secretary of State’s site described as a ‘contribution’ from UM.”
In response the next day, UM president John Stewart addressed the allegations as false. In the university’s official statement, Stewart says, “The University of Montevallo received a check in the amount of $3,000 from CCRP to fund a $1,000 private scholarship. When the overpayment was discovered, CCRP requested a $2,000 refund which was processed and mailed. In compliance with state laws regarding the use of public funds, the University of Montevallo does not contribute to political candidates or to PACs.”
According to federal law, all section 501(c)(3) organizations, which include publicly-funded colleges and universities, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.
An email written by Brenda Knight, executive director of the UM Foundation, was reposted on Facebook by alumni. The email further contradicts the allegations, stating “the University received a check for $3,000 from the Republican Party of Cullman County. The check related to a private scholarship that the Cullman CRP had given to a UM student.”
Knight further states that “this $2,000 accidently got reported as a UM political contribution to the Republican Party. The [Montevallo] Young Democrats on campus are very concerned that UM is funding a particular political party, but all of this relates back to a miscoding and misunderstanding of what really happened.”
APR apologized for the inaccurate post on Monday, Sept. 1. Hedgepeth and APR have since parted ways. Hedgepeth says he left the organization because he was denied the ability to answer the questions he wanted answered. “Complaints have been filed with the IRS and the Alabama Secretary of State against UM, and while no student can audit against UM, they can. It’s their job and I’m confident they will complete it successfully,” says Hedgepeth.
Gary McGriff, treasurer for CCRP, was reached out for comment but did not respond.
A version of this article that appeared in Issue 2, Vol. 89 of The Alabamian incorrectly stated that UM student Lee Hedgepeth could not be reached for comment. Hedgepth’s quotes were left out of the print version due to an editing error. Hedgepeth’s quotes are now included.
The article also stated that in Hedgepeth’s article for Alabama Political Reporter.com, UM had also been accused of endorsing Alabama state Senator Cam Ward. Hedgepeth reported University President John Stewart of endorsing Ward, not UM.
Finally, Brenda Knight did not post her emailed statement on Facebook. The email was posted by several alumni on UM specific pages.