The group is calling for the immediate resignation of Lee and the entire executive staff. Lee maintains he has done nothing wrong.
Alabamians 4 Truth accuse Lee of several instances of financial negligence that range from expensive dinners paid for by AUCR funds to a $600 campaign contribution made to former AUCR member and Auburn graduate Alex Schriver, who is running for the chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a political organization, a religious organization, if you’re going to lead, you have to lead with character and integrity,” said Caleb Byrd, a former AUCR member who has held numerous positions on the executive staff. “We are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard as Auburn men and women with honesty and integrity, truth and perseverance, and we have not received that from Michael Lee or Alex Schriver at any step of the way.”
Byrd, senior in political science, got involved with Alabamians 4 Truth when the possibility of negligence from Lee was brought to his attention by current AUCR members.
The concerns were first raised by secretary Alexandra Jelinek, senior in economics, and vice-chair Hayley Thrift, senior in public relations in late March. As secretary, Jelinek was supposed to go over every financial expenditure in a monthly report with Lee. All semester, Jelinek said she had seen no reports, so she figured no money was being spent.
Eventually, she and Thrift requested bank statements from Lee, and after he handed them over, the two were alarmed at what they saw.
Lee came to one of the girls’ apartments to discuss the matter, and with a hidden camera, Jelinek and Thrift videotaped the entire conversation.
In the video, which was posted to the blog, Lee admits to lying to Jelinek about the destination of the check made out to Alex Schriver.
“I lied to you about where that money was going,” Lee said in the video. “I just wanted to look like a badass.”
Lee said he would not have spoken as candidly had he known he was being videotaped.
Thrift said she never agreed to post the video online, and that Jelinek had taken this action herself.
Jelinek said Lee told her the money was going to Schriver to pay for a table at the Alabama GOP dinner, not a campaign contribution.
Jelinek said the executive board typically would approve such a large expenditure. This time, however, she said a vote was not taken.
“This was a check to a candidate that many of the members did not endorse,” Jelinek said. “He’s a personal friend of Michael Lee. He said to the executive board, ‘We’re writing a check to Alex Schriver for $600. OK?’ Case closed. Nothing. There was no vote, there were no objections. It was just kind of a statement.”
Even more alarming to Jelinek, the check was made out to Alex Schriver directly, not “Friends of Alex Schriver,” the campaign committee that collects funds for his campaign.
Thrift said she was more concerned by the large tabs that had been run up at restaurants. These included a $300 bill at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Huntsville, two $90 bills at Cancun Mexican restaurant and a bill at Amsterdam Cafe more than $100, in which Lee took former agriculture commissioner candidate Dale Peterson to dinner. Peterson has been featured in a campaign ad for Schriver.
“You can hide little things,” Byrd said. “But it’s when you start getting greedy that it’s hard to cover your tracks.”
“Not in our guidelines”
Lee said he gave his staff the opportunity to object to the donation to the Schriver campaign.
“It was a miscommunication,” Thrift said. “Michael brought it up that we were going to make this donation. I didn’t object. And then later it was kind of Alexandra heard one thing, and we kind of all heard another, and so that’s when my concerns came up, but they were addressed.”
Jelinek said if a donation was made to a campaign, the members of the organization had a right to know.
Lee said outside of the executive board, no AUCR members were informed the donation was made.
“There are no guidelines in our constitution about how to go about endorsing,” Lee said.
He said the constitution is equally ambiguous about how to use funds.
“There are no guidelines in our constitution for budget and expenditures,” Lee said. “So when looking at it, I just kind of used precedence of methods of past chairmen, and that’s how I went about deciding.”
Treasurer Katherine Hart, senior in marketing, said she was aware of the expenditures every step of the way and said she approved them because there are no guidelines in the constitution addressing such expenses.
In the video, and in subsequent interviews, Lee said he had done nothing that past chairmen had not done. Lee reimbursed AUCR for the Ruth’s Chris bill and a trip to New Orleans for a College Republicans convention which he and Schriver attended together.
“It’s never my intention to do something the members didn’t want me to do,” Lee said.
Lee and Thrift said an open meeting was held at the Creekside clubhouse on the evening of April 3 to address any concerns members had.
“Members of Alabamians 4 Truth were present at our meeting when we decided how to move forward,” Thrift said. “They should have spoken up then if they weren’t happy with how to move forward instead of handling it on the Internet.”
Jelinek said Lee invited an official from the Lee County Republican Party to the meeting to intimidate any present dissenters.
“He wouldn’t let me speak,” Jelinek said. “The guy would keep grabbing me every time I opened my mouth.”
Jelinek said at the end of the meeting Lee said he would resign at the end of the semester and hand over the duties of chairman to Thrift.
Jelinek said this is why Thrift has come to call the situation a “miscommunication.”
Lee is also the chairman of the College Republican Federation of Alabama.
Deputy Chairman West Honeycutt, junior at the University of Alabama, has called for Lee’s resignation.
“Michael could be innocent, he could be guilty, we’re going to find out,” Honeycutt said. “But I don’t see how we can fundraise when anyone who wants to give us money Googles us, and they see that our state chairman is caught up in this allegation.”
The controversy surrounding the campaign donation to Schriver is the second glitch in his campaign for national chairman.
Video evidence has also surfaced showing Schriver toasting the Texas Federation of College Republicans chairman, who uttered an anti-gay slur earlier in the video.
Schriver was contacted for an interview multiple times and would not respond to phone calls.
Wednesday morning, screenshots of Twitter posts from an account of unknown origin that made legal and personal threats to Jelinek were posted on the Alabamians 4 Truth blog. Two home addresses were included in the posts, one of which is to the home of the parents of former AUCR chair Allison Kajs, among Lee’s accusers. According to the site, the second address belongs to Alex Levin, Alex Schriver’s opponent in the national race.
Jelinek said AUCR needs help from beyond the organization to handle the situation.
“Obviously we need help from outside people because we’ve tried to handle this internally, and it hasn’t worked,” Jelinek said.