Katy Brown, the Republican vying for Colorado’s highly competitive House District 3 seat, touts her experience as a web developer, Cherry Hills councilwoman and community service volunteer. Yet she has erased from her public profile one of her pet causes: championing fraternities’ and sororities’ political agenda in Washington.
Brown served from 2012 through December 2015 on the board of the Fraternity Sorority Political Action Committee, also known as FSPAC, or FratPAC. The group describes its role as “helping position the fraternal community [to] influence legislation that will preserve the fraternity and sorority experience for future generations of student leaders.”
Stories about misconduct among fraternity and sorority chapters are becoming, as Bloomberg put it last year, “depressingly familiar.” According to the news site’s investigation, “In just the spring semester of 2015, 133 fraternity and sorority chapters at 55 U.S. colleges were shut down, suspended, or otherwise punished after alleged offenses including excessive partying, hazing, racism, and sexual assault.”
That same year, FSPAC listed Brown as one of two board members in charge of its congressional visits.
FSPAC spent much of 2015 pushing for the Safe Campus Act, a bill introduced by three House Republicans that would have made it tougher for universities and colleges to suspend or sanction students accused of sexual violence. The measure would have restricted schools from investigating sex assault cases unless police are involved. It also would have extended due process rights to fraternities and sororities so that, as FSPAC wrote, “entire organizations cannot be suspended without cause.”
Victims’ groups and college administrators’ guilds condemned the police reporting requirement, saying it would intimidate some sex assault victims and prevent them from coming forward. Some critics denounced the bill for giving more protections to frat boys than to rape victims. Ultimately, some sorority and fraternity advocacy groups backed off their support of the bill, saying it was too divisive. It’s unclear whether FSPAC formally withdrew support for the Act, and the organization did not respond to inquiries for this story.
The Safe Campus Act wasn’t the only legislation FSPAC pushed while Brown served on its board.
The group also urged members to work against efforts to deny federal student aid to students convicted of hazing-related crimes. And it supported a multi-million-dollar tax break to let fraternities and sororities use charitable donations to renovate and help build fraternity and sorority houses.
In 2012, the year Brown became a director, the group was monitoring Congress’ reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which expanded rights for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Calling the reauthorization “a political football,” a FSPAC newsletter describes the group’s concerns that the “burden of proof for sexual assault cases in the campus judicial systems” was too low under standards set by the U.S. Department of Education, and that “the accused may lack some basic protections.”
Brown skirted questions about her views on the specific policies for which FSPAC was advocating. Instead, she wrote in an email to The Colorado Independent that, “As a board member, I helped raise money for the PAC and I participated in the decisions regarding candidate support.”
“During my time on the board the FSPAC took a strong stance toward electing more women to office as well,” she added.
The group has contributed to both of Colorado’s U.S. senators. Democrat Michael Bennet received $2,500 from the PAC this year. He was in Beta Theta Pi at Wesleyan for less than a semester, then resigned. Republican Cory Gardner received $5,000 from the PAC when he ran in 2014. He was a member of the FarmHouse fraternity at Colorado State University.
Brown’s official board role in 2015 was called “Congressional Visits / Dinner Co-Chairman.” She acknowledged that she co-hosted FSPAC’s $500-a-plate dinner, which she noted was “open to all members of Congress,” but said that visiting or arranging lobbying calls with members of Congress wasn’t part of her responsibilities.
“I did not coordinate congressional visits (PACs don’t do that),” she wrote.
Brown is right. Legally, political action committees aren’t supposed to lobby. Yet students have posted on social media about their experiences lobbying with the group. News outlets, including Bloomberg and Huffington Post, have reported about its lobbying efforts. Even FSPAC’s own newsletter from Summer 2015 touts its work, in conjunction with an umbrella group called the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition, dispatching students and fraternity and sorority alumni to lobby Congress.
“I hope you will enjoy the news of our recent visit to Washington, D.C., to lobby for Greek issues,” the newsletter reads.
Asked Monday why FSPAC used the term “congressional visits” to describe her special role on the board, Brown responded, “I didn’t write that so I don’t know why it is worded that way.”
In 2012, Brown signed onto a letter urging FSPAC members to support Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign because his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, “has dedicated substantial time to the fraternity movement.”
“You can’t tell the Paul Ryan story without understanding the role his fraternity experience has played in his life,” the letter reads. “Paul Ryan was a dedicated undergraduate member of Delta Tau Delta at Miami of Ohio and he has continued to live his fraternity’s values of truth, courage, faith and power.”
The emphasis the Greek movement puts on political power is strong. In 2013, a year into Brown’s service on its board, FSPAC celebrated that the 113th Congress included 145 fraternity and sorority members, and that the committee had been successful putting new members in office.
“Good Government Needs Greeks,” reads one FSPAC newsletter.
Brown is an alumna of MIT, where she pledged with Alpha Chi Omega – a sorority seeking to “change how women think and act about the idea of sorority,” and whose national website boasts that its 230,000 members “Know no boundaries.”
According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ site opensecrets.org, she has given $20,250 to FSPAC from 2006 through this year. The committee gave her campaign $400 in June, after she left its board.
In early January, Brown listed her involvement with FSPAC – as well as with Alpha Chi Omega and the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation – on her campaign web site. But that involvement seems to have been removed later that month. There’s no mention of those ties on her site as it appears today.
She took the references out, she said, “Simply out of a desire to highlight local community involvement because I believe the people of HD3 care about what I have done for our community.”
Brown demurred when asked if she plans to push a fraternity/sorority agenda in Colorado. “If elected, my priorities are improving public education, strengthening the economy to create opportunities for everyone to get ahead and keeping our communities safe because these are the issues are important to the people of HD3,” she wrote.
House District 3 covers Sheridan, Englewood, Greenwood Village and Cherry Hills Village. Brown is running against Democrat Jeff Bridges, son of former gubernatorial candidate Rutt Bridges. The seat is currently held by Democratic state Rep. Daniel Kagan, who’s vying for state Senate.
While a student at Kenyon College, Bridges served on a committee to strengthen that school’s sexual misconduct policy. In 2014, he published an essay in Time about men’s complicity in rape culture.
“No public official and no ethical person can ignore the epidemic of rape on our college campuses,” he told The Independent Monday. “Legislation to make our campuses safe for women, not perpetrators, is a crucial piece of the ongoing fight to ensure that all women can pursue their dreams and achieve their highest potential without the threat of sexual violence.”
[Photo from Katy Brown for Colorado campaign website, http://brownfor.co, photo gallery]