Political activist fights UW campaign policy

Political activist Ben Masel was petitioning for signatures in the back of the union on June 29, 2006, and was asked to leave by police, said John Lucas, UW-Madison spokesperson.,”As campaigning season spirals across the country, Ben Masel's campaign for Wisconsin state Senate provides a cautionary tale to individuals looking to campaign at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Masel, a Democrat best-known for pushing drug reform including the legalization of marijuana, was petitioning for signatures in the back of the student union on June 29, 2006, when he was asked to leave by police, said John Lucas, UW-Madison spokesman.

Masel claimed his First Amendment rights were abused in a lawsuit, which District Judge John Shabaz denied on Dec. 17.

The union's terrace, in the back of the building, is off-limits for campaigning and only open to union members, which includes students, faculty and staff members of the military, Lucas said. Candidates may, however, campaign in the front of the union.

Similar policies have been enforced for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, Lucas said.

Marc Kennedy, communications director for the Wisconsin Union, said Masel claimed he did not know about the union's policy, but union staff had told him this rule.

Also, Masel is not a union member and not allowed to be there anyway, Kennedy said.

"The main issue isn't whether he can or can't do it. The main issue is with his confrontation with the police," Kennedy said.

The police were called when Masel refused to leave the terrace, said Sgt. Jason Whitney, of the UW-Madison police department. When Masel resisted the police and began yelling, he was sprayed with mace and cited by the police, reports said.

Masel also claimed in his lawsuit that the police unlawfully detained him, Kennedy said.

UW-Madison students also aren't allowed to go table-to-table and hand out material in the back of the union, Kennedy said.

Kenney said, "99.9 percent of people are fine with it, they understand why it's there."

Oliver Kiefer, a junior and chair of the College Democrats at UW-Madison said he witnessed these campaigning problems at the union before.

The policy applies to all university buildings on campus to respect the privacy of residents, he said.

"It's kind of a shame that we're not doing more to promote civic engagements," Kiefer said. "The university could be more proactive in promoting civic engagement and making the process more accessible on university property."

Kiefer said many students did not know about the lawsuit, nor knew Masel was running for the Wisconsin state Senate. He said he would like to see students become more involved in campaigning.

"It's not just about giving them an education in math or science or English," Keifer said. "It's about creating citizens. It takes a little more than what you can learn in the classroom."