Accusations of Dishonesty Plague Burton
Only one month after his election, the second-in-command of Harvard's student government has been accused of campaign violations, dishonesty and theft. Now, some of the most loyal supporters of Vice President John A. Burton '01 are calling for his resignation.
Accusations about campaign spending have kept Burton and his running mate, President Fentrice D. Driskell '01 on the defensive since their election. But complaints that Burton stole campaign materials from the office of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters' Alliance (BGLTSA) are being seen by some supporters as the last straw.
During the two-week campaign last month, supporters of Burton and newly-elected President Fentrice D. Driskell '01 wore buttons that read "Driskell-Burton" in support of their candidate.
The buttons originally belonged to the BGLTSA. The group's leaders say Burton took them from their Holworthy Basement office without permission.
As a volunteer staffer for BGLTSA, Burton has a key to the office. He maintains that he knew of a box of unused buttons there, and did not think the BGLTSA would mind him taking them.
In fact, Burton said he asked BGLTSA co-chair Michael A. Hill '02 for permission to use the buttons. He admits, however, that this request was made after he had already taken the buttons and put his own campaign slogans on them.
But Hill vehemently denies granting Burton permission to use the buttons. Hill says he confronted Burton about the buttons at a council meeting last month.
"I saw he had our buttons, and I said to him 'I cannot believe you're using our buttons for your campaign,' " Hill said last night. But seeing only three or four buttons and thinking that Burton took no more than that, Hill said he did not press the issue further.
Presented with Hill's version of the conversation, Burton changed his story yesterday. While Hill did not tell him he could use the buttons, Burton said, neither did Hill expressly forbid him from doing so.
Burton said he felt this implied that he had the BGLTSA's permission.
"[Hill] was not thrilled about the idea, but he was like, 'OK, whatever,' " Burton said.
But the BGLTSA board--which learned that Burton took the buttons only after reading a Dec. 20 Crimson article about the Driskell-Burton ticket's campaign violations--disagreed.
Board members then realized they did not have any buttons left and asked Burton to return them.
"The purpose of the [BGLTSA] buttons is not to be Driskell-Burton campaign buttons," explained Anna M. Baldwin '00, vice chair of BGLTSA.
While the BGLTSA board has been reluctant to publicly label Burton's actions as stealing, some of Burton's former supporters have been less hesitant.
"[Burton] essentially stole the buttons from the BGLTSA. That does not seem okay to me," said former council vice president Kamil E. Redmond '00, who endorsed Burton in last month's campaign.
And yesterday, council member David B. Orr '01, who was one of Driskell-Burton's most senior campaign workers, called for Burton's resignation.
"I think that this represents an extremely serious ethical violation," Orr said. "The best scenario is for Fentrice to serve out her term as president and for John to resign."
But Burton said he will serve out his term no matter the scandal's outcome.
"It could be the end of the world, and I would not resign. We are moving on, and I'm confident that we will be able to pull the council with us," he said.
An election commission composed of both council and non-council members makes sure that candidates do not overspend a $100 per ticket limit. The commission first questioned the buttons' origins last month while investigating charges that the Driskell-Burton ticket had overspent its limit.
Burton claimed then that the buttons were a freely available resource that he, along with any other undergraduate or council candidate, could take.
Election commission member Andre V. Moura '03 said the group did not question Burton's explanation of how he acquired the buttons during this initial inquiry.
"We didn't consider that he hadn't asked for permission," he says. "He made it seem like any candidate could just go up and get buttons. [If we had known,]we would have had to have taken more serious action--maybe he would have gotten kicked out of the campaign."
Burton estimated Monday afternoon that he took only 50 or 60 buttons. Told that an election commission e-mail message had pinned the number at 180, Burton acknowledged the actual number was "probably over 100."
Despite the latest controversy Driskell said she is standing by Burton.
"Part of being in a partnership is trying to counteract each other's weaknesses," she said.
Some council members say such loyalty might not be the best tactic for Driskell. Burton has been at the center of most of the controversies that have bogged down Driskell's nascent administration.
The new president said she was not sure who had given Burton permission to use the buttons.
Since the election, the two have been accused of putting campaign material in all first-year mailboxes, which is against University policy. Several council members have also alleged that Driskell and Burton overspent their campaign limit, which the candidates deny.
"It's Fentrice's responsibility as head of the ticket to make sure the opportunity she has doesn't get sacrificed by the fact that her term is getting bogged down by scandals surrounding her vice president," said former council President Noah Z. Seton '00.
Seton has not called for Burton's resignation, but he said he advises Driskell to have a frank talk with Burton and take control of the situation.
"They have twelve months, and they've used a month. In that one month, all the student body has heard about them is buttons...and scandal," he said.