Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle’s upcoming speech at UF has divided students, with some questioning if the event is legal.
Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle, the president’s senior campaign adviser, will be paid $50,000 for speaking at UF on Thursday, according to UF’s contract with the speakers. However, ACCENT Speakers Bureau, the UF Student Government organization bringing the speakers, did not specify how the money will be split between them, nor what they will talk about.
The Alligator spoke with local lawyers and a Federal Election Commission representative to examine the legalities of the event.
The legal experts said the event could be considered illegal after the fact if the speakers spend the whole time vying for the president’s re-election or if the $50,000 funds go toward the president’s re-election campaign.
If Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle came to UF for a fundraising event, expenses would need to be disclosed to the FEC, said the commission’s deputy press officer Chistian Hilland. As of now, the event does not fall under the commission’s jurisdiction.
“That really wouldn’t have to do with the presidential campaign or the FEC,” he said. “They’re there in their own capacity.”
While it is tradition for people who speak on behalf of a campaign to attend without pay, this tendency is not law, according to American Public Media’s Marketplace.
In 2015, after Hillary Clinton announced her presidential campaign, her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, spoke at different universities, said Michael Massey, a civil rights attorney at Gainesville’s Massey & Duffy. She was paid and sent her fees to the Clinton Foundation, according to the Washington Post.
“At the end of the day, and in 99 percent of the cases that I do, it’s ‘follow the money,” Massey said. “If you follow the money, you’re probably going to figure out what’s really going on.”
The First Amendment protects political speech, and it’s unlikely that there won’t be any at the event, considering the speakers’ backgrounds, Massey said.
“Do [officials] deny someone the right to speak under the First Amendment at a state-run university because they think there’s going to be political speech?” Massey said. “That would be a violation of the First Amendment, even if the person, in their own mind wasn’t going to do political speech — just denying them based on the idea that they could have.”
Frank LoMonte, director of UF’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said it is safe for the speakers to cover a variety of issues as long as they don’t cross lines that come with talking about the presidential campaign or commercial subjects for too long.
If Trump and Guilfoyle stick to discussing their roles in the campaign and their takes on political issues, the event is fine, LoMonte said.
Another student concern, including #CHOMPTRUMP protest organizers, is if the event is a conflict of interest because Student Body President Michael Murphy’s father was a campaign contributor to President Trump and has connections to Trump Jr. LoMonte said the event is legal as long as the process to contract the speakers wasn’t coercive.
“If you have an in with somebody famous that you can get come to campus, you’d probably be tempted to want to use that,” LoMonte said.
Organizers of No Nazis UF called for UF President Kent Fuchs to resign from his position on the basis that he has a responsibility to cancel the event. According to Florida Statutes, Fuchs can veto the budget once a year, but only sees line items. LoMonte said this process happens before speakers are selected.
LoMonte said the content of the keynote addresses will tie back to many of the protestors’ claims.
“They can share their conservative philosophy,” LoMonte said. “What they can’t do is turn the whole thing into a taxpayer underwritten campaign rally.”
Donald Trump Jr speaks at a Louisiana GOP rally in Lafayette, La,m for both Republican gubernatorial candidates. Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)