Deplorable: Fraternities Deny Accountability in Hazing Deaths Thanks to Money

News & Politics

For the eight or nine people left on this floating pebble we call a planet who are still unconvinced that fraternities are one of the worst things in a history essentially defined by worse and worse things, news that there is literally a super PAC dedicated to defending Greek life and the pursuit of hazing should set the record straight.

Almost two years ago, Lianne Kowiak, whose 19-year-old son died after schoolmates beat him to death in a routine hazing initiation, teamed up with U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson in an effort to crack down on University-sanctioned Greek hazing. Wilson herself had a history with tough anti-hazing legislation, pushing a Florida initiative to deny financial aid to students who engage in hazing and other behavior usually reserved for prison inmates. Yet today, 19 months after Wilson and Kowiak became the faces of the anti-hazing bill, Wilson has suddenly gone remarkably mum, having not filed a single bill. This inaction is due largely to the influence of an emerging group known as the FratPAC, an increasingly well-financed lobbying group designed to fight any accountabiity on the part of fraternity members, no matter how egregious their offenses, or any legislation to curb bad frat behavior. 

"Their opposition is very influential," said Diane Watson in an interview with Bloomberg. A former Democratic member of Congress from California, Watson sponsored an unsuccessful 2003 bill that would have pushed for what Wilson was after in Florida, essentially denying financial aid to students sanctioned for hazing. Yet even before the FratPAC had been established, individual fraternities (known for their illustrious and loyal alumni) were able to stop the bill from going any further. 

Since 2005, nearly 60 students have died in incidents involving fraternity hazing, with about half being alcohol-poisoning related. Yet fraternity membership and revenue is on the rise, with a 25% uptick in members in 2012, the same year that saw ten student deaths—the most fatalities in at least a decade. And beyond the literal strong arm that the FratPAC has, perhaps the most important factor is that Greek life is simply good business, as Fraternity foundations collectively held $534 million since 2010 alone.

Here's how the FratPAC started: In 2005, fraternity and sorority leaders raised $506,852 for the 2011-2012 election cycle, thanks to donors that included executives from major companies, lawyers who defend frat and sorority members, and brokers who sell liability insurance for Greek houses. The money was then funneled into a political group that began to fight back against the Education Department's request that colleges require less evidence before responding to sexual assault. Fraternity leaders met with department officials in an effort to make the claim that the new policy threatened student rights (presumably referring to a student's right to rape someone and still be able to take a Monday final). The FratPAC was thus born in an attempt to represent the marginalized male community, and fund action against legislation that would make students responsible for any wrong-doing on campus. 

With the debate over where exactly potential hazing legislation would fall (on a state-by-state level, or signed into national law), the FratPAC has capitalized on the confusion through intensive lobbying. Unsurprisingly, its been reported that FratPACs have, since their inception, overwhelmingly backed Republican candidates, with two-thirds of their donations going to members of the GOP, according to data assembled by The Atlantic Wire. As of now, the Fraternity Industrial Complex continues to exist in full swing, with FratPAC president Cindy Stellhorn releasing a statement that explains the groups position on federal hazing laws, finding them reductive as criminal laws and Greek guidelines already address the issue. 

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