Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Profiting from his role in government: Bob Kerrey and the student discount card scandal

In researching Kerrey's political biography, I've been struck by one respect in which he's a very unusual politician. Some politicians remain only modestly wealthy throughout their lives; Joe Biden would be an example. Some become rich and then go into politics, exchanging some of their wealth for power. Some have spouses who make money, often using the political spouse's connections.

Kerrey seems to be one of the few who went in to politics to make money, rather than accumulating wealth to buy power. As a businessman in the late 1970s, he admitted as much; he was going to seek political office to improve financial returns. We'll look at some of his dealings in office later on.

This showed up very early in Bob's political career, when he was BMOC and the de facto muscle for the Greek societies on the UNL Student Council in 1964-1965. We've already examined Bob's campaign against an initiative that would merely have urged (not compelled) fraternities and sororities to desegregate. At the time, though, the bigger scandal, which galvanized campus for a while, was Kerrey's profiteering from Student Discount Cards.

Student discount cards are not as common as they once were, so let me explain about them. A student organization solicits merchants to offer students a discount on goods or services; in return the merchant gets advertizing and increased traffic. The cards could be sold to students or simply given away; the merchants could also be charged for advertising. It was a primitive, low-tech Groupon, if you like. UNL's Student Council in 1964 approved the sale of these cards, with the evident intention of helping students.

Bob Kerrey however spotted an opportunity. As a member of the Student Council and its Welfare Committee, he took it upon himself to collect a 67% commission on sale of advertising on the cards. He even employed a graduate student to help him. Toigether, they made $380 ($2,800 in 2012 dollars). He also put his own name and address on the cards, rather than the Council's.

Student Council was not happy, and Kerrey was hauled before the judiciary committee. Kerrey defended himself by protesting that the Student Council had not explicitly prohibited profiting from discount card sales. He also claimed other members of the Council had been offered a cut, which they denied. His accusers pointed out he had exploited his office for personal profit (a theme we'll see again and again). After an acrimonious hearing, Kerrey escaped being expelled from Student Council, but the Judiciary Committee found him guilty of "extremely poor judgement" and found that he had "made money by virtue of his position in Student Government".

Frank Partsch, editor of the Daily Nebraskan, who later went on to a distinguished career at the Omaha World Herald, editorialized that Kerrey's actions were "highly irregular for a member of Student Council" and that he should have been removed from office.

The one member of the Judiciary Committee who held out for Kerrey's expulsion, John Klein, claimed the decision made no sense, and that Kerrey was retained on the Council because of pressure from the Greek societies. If true, this will not be the last time Kerrey's frat brothers will come to his aid.

So there it is; a tempest in the teapot that was UNL student government in 1965, but starting a pattern, which, as we will see, has continued to the present day.

1 comment:

  1. The Discount cards are very must for the students who can't afford the burden of all the costs.

    ReplyDelete