ANNAPOLIS – Fame is a heavy burden.
Tim Daly, the student body president of the University of Maryland, College Park, is the head of a political action committee, a media darling and the star of a movie that has turned heads across the country, but critics call him a “pawn of the Democratic Party” who is doing little to help higher education.
The charges come on the heels of the release of “Bob and Me,” a documentary that chronicles Daly’s quest to meet with Gov. Robert Ehrlich about cuts to higher education that have led to large tuition increases and layoffs.
The $8,000 film is the latest effort from Daly’s Student Citizens Action Network, a group that has raised about $25,000 from Democratic politicians and labor to lobby for higher education, which was cut by more than $120 million in the last two years. While the movie idea is clever, some said it goes too far in attacking Ehrlich, who is making the budget decisions that Daly and his group protest.
The movie is “really making student lobbying into a soap opera,” said Dan Purcell, the chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Student Council. “It’s a serious issue; (SCAN) treats it like a joke.”
Scott Goldstein, the editor in chief of the College Park campus newspaper, The Diamondback, said he thought the movie might not do much good.
“Paying $8,000 for this movie that mocks the governor . . . I don’t know how the average student would benefit from that,” Goldstein said.
Ehrlich hasn’t seen and won’t see “Bob and Me,” said his spokesman Shareese DeLeaver.
“It’s unfortunate, though, that at least in some ways (Daly is) a pawn of the Democratic Party,” she said.
The movie was made to tell the students’ story and make elected officials accountable, and it is having its desired effect, Daly said. Several legislators attended a premiere of the movie in Annapolis last week and about $2,500 was raised at a screening in Silver Spring over the weekend.
“People really want to speak about this issue right now,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s been successful.”
University System Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan probably won’t see the movie, but he does see its value.
“In general I think student activism is a good thing. I think it’s very heartening, in a way, to see people get involved and for them to speak out,” Kirwan said. “I hope that what we’re seeing with the activities of SCAN is sort of a precursor for a movement towards more engagement.”
Higher education has gotten considerable attention this year in the General Assembly, an indication that SCAN’s lobbying since its October formation has paid off.
After tuition rose by 21 percent at some university campuses, three bills were introduced to cap tuition increases. One bill died in the House of Delegates, one is languishing in a Senate committee and the third passed the House and is being considered in the Senate.
SCAN has kept higher education “on the front burner,” said Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, a sponsor of one of the bills and one of the group’s contributors, though he acknowledged SCAN has taken a partisan tone.
“If I were writing the material, I wouldn’t write it the way they’ve written it,” Frosh said. But “is the (Ehrlich) administration responsible? Absolutely it is.”
SCAN has two branches — a state-registered political action committee and a federally designated, nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization.
PACs raise funds for campaigns and are required to disclose their contributions; 501(c)(4)s can participate in unlimited political activity, as long as it is not their primary activity, and do not have to disclose contributions, said Liz Towne, director of advocacy programs for the Alliance for Justice.
“Financially, they’re separate organizations; they each have to keep their own books,” Towne said. “But always from the perspective of outsiders looking in, it looks like one organization.”
SCAN has raised about $25,000, though only about $3,000 were contributions to the PAC, Daly said. The rest went to the nonprofit, excusing them from state disclosure requirements.
But SCAN will be making its donor list public soon, Daly said, and he was willing to rattle off a list of some, including: Frosh; Baltimore City Councilman Robert Curran; Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery; Delegate Justin Ross, D-Prince George’s; University of Maryland, College Park Vice President John Porcari; and several labor unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
AFSCME made a $4,000 donation because students supported university employees in their drive for collective bargaining and maintaining benefits, said Zachary Ramsey, executive director of AFSCME Council 92.
“I think (the movie is) doing what it was made to do,” Ramsey said. “I think it makes a connection. I think it does help.”
But Daly’s movie will not affect Ehrlich’s consideration of higher education, DeLeaver said.
“Maryland’s higher education system will not suffer based on ‘Bob and Me,'” she said. But “we hope there’s not a sequel.”