According to filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Stevens President Nariman Farvardin and multiple members of the Board of Trustees made monetary contributions to Gianforte’s congressional election committee, “Greg For Montana.”
Mr. Gianforte recently donated a total of $20 million in funding for the construction of the new Academic Gateway Center, which was thereafter named the Gianforte Academic Center. After significant concerns were raised by members of the Stevens community over Gianforte’s past support for Anti-LGBTQ groups and his assault on a reporter, a committee was formed to consider the naming of the Academic Center. The committee’s findings were passed on to the Board of Trustees, which oversees the financial, administrative, and academic affairs of Stevens.
The contributions, while in no way illegal, raise concerns over the potential conflicts of interest faced by members of the Board of Trustees when coming to a decision. Virginia P. Ruesterholz, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, donated a total of $5,400 to Gianforte’s campaign. Lawrence T. Babbio, Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees, donated a total of $2,000. Other members, including Philip Crowley, John Hanlon, Thomas Scholl, Stephen Boswell, and Frank J. Semcer also made significant contributions totaling nearly $10,000. Stevens President Nariman Farvardin made a $1,000 contribution to the campaign.
The receipt dates for all donations, as listed by the FEC, are after the initial announcement made by President Farvardin in December 2016 on the decision to rename the center.
When first announcing the creation of the Committee to Consider the Naming of the Gianforte Academic Center, President Farvardin wrote that the issue of re-naming the center must be approached “in a thoughtful, deliberate and objective manner.” The contributions, which highlight possible cases of partiality, were not mentioned in any written statement to members of the Stevens community.
Gianforte first announced his intention to run for Montana’s at-large Congressional seat on Jan. 25, 2017, after former seat-holder Ryan Zinke resigned to become Secretary of the Interior for the Trump administration. On May 24, 2017, Gianforte was thrust into national news following his assault on reporter Ben Jacobs, to which Gianforte plead guilty and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management, a 180-day deferred sentence, and a $300 fine. The Board of Trustees, in their decision, wrote through e-mail that “Mr. Gianforte’s assault on a reporter was wrong,” but that his subsequent apology and actions lead the Board to believe that this “incident does not define Mr. Gianforte’s character or principle legacy.”
The contributions made to Gianforte’s political campaign also highlight discrepancies between statements made by President Farvardin and Gianforte’s own political positions on controversial national political topics. These include President Farvardin’s criticism of the recent travel ban issued by Trump barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Gianforte, on the other hand, expressed support for the travel ban.
On Sept. 28, 2017, the Board of Trustees decided to finalize the name of the Academic Center as “The Gianforte Family Academic Center,” with the board believing the resolution to be in the best interests of the Stevens community. Along with the Board, the Student Government Association and the administration called on members of the community to unite in the days following.