WEISS: Introduce expenditure caps in student elections

Current uncapped spending policy excludes low-income students, gives wealthier students outsize influence

The University Board of Elections released the interim expenditure report which all candidates for elected student offices had to fill out by Feb. 13, three days before the official start of the campaign on Feb. 16. The results are stunning. The interim expenditure report, as distinguished from the final one to be submitted on Feb. 24, showed more than double the total spending of the 2016 elections reported by the final report, with student elections projected to cost $6,800 this year to last year’s definitive $2,873.18. The race for student council president is in another dimension. Kelsey Kilgore projected $2,490 of spending alone. This is a singularly egregious example of a candidate making up the difference in a race with the raw power of the resources she can draw on. It is a blatant violation of the trust, integrity and fairness of the election process for a candidate to attempt to buy an election she is not qualified to win. The student body must mobilize to amend the constitution of the University Board of Elections next year to cap permitted spending so that this can never happen again.

First, it is important to be clear about the circumstances of this election. The costs this year have gone up nearly across the board as more candidates have been allowed to participate due to diminished or even non-existent signature requirement changes made by UBE. All of the races for Honor Committee membership, for example, are projected to cost candidates $811, compared to $219 last year.

Despite this and many other qualifications, Kilgore’s spending blitz is a revolutionary form of politicking for University elections. Kilgore’s projected spending of $2,490 represents about 37 percent of projected spending across the board for candidates and would account for 87 percent of all spending last year. In the article which first broke the news, Kilgore says she estimates her spending at $1,500 to date while Sarah Kenny stated she is increasing her spending to attempt to close the gap. Still, that $1,500 figure is larger than total spending for all Student Council races combined last year, which stood at $1,332.14. She has reportedly spent a large chunk of those quadruple digits buying students free meals. She projected spending $1,000 on food, Red Bull and coffee alone. Kilgore, whose father ran for the Governorship in Virginia and held the office of Attorney General of Virginia, is bringing hardball political strategy and resources to the university level, rounding out her lack of experience or knowledge of Student Council by flushing the system with an unprecedented amount of cash.

UBE’s rules and regulations are helpful in figuring out how this is even possible and what needs to change. In Section III.D.1.a), the text stipulates that “there are no limits on expenditures for election-related activities.” Simply put, students can theoretically spend as much as they feel they need to. This means that candidates like Kilgore who are willing to spend big will be rewarded. Those with nowhere near those means, by contrast, must rely on the UBE’s Campaign Grant Program. The program offers four tiers of maximum potential funding, ranging from $150 for the Student Council presidential race in tier one to $50 for tier four races. Under the existing system, student self-governance is for sale to the highest bidder.

Kilgore has made it clear that we cannot allow for uncapped spending in student elections. We cannot allow money to have an outsize influence on the University’s student elections in a way that mirrors state and national dysfunction and corruption. Section III.A.1. of the UBE rules and regulations state that the Board shall “establish the Elections Procedures for each election in a fair and reasonable manner, respecting the free speech of students, upholding the educational environment of the University, and maintaining the public trust in self-governance.” Kilgore’s muscling into the StudCo presidential race is an affront to this public trust. To remedy this gross inequity, the University community should amend the UBE constitution to cap expenditures on “election-related activities” to a defined amount, or at least demand that the UBE change its rules and regulations. The University community should also consider increasing the funding and scope of the UBE’s Campaign Grant Program even more to make running for a position more accessible to all. Kilgore’s campaign should be a wake-up call for all of us that unfettered spending is incompatible with student self-governance. If we want this vaunted institution to retain a semblance of its legitimacy, we must act to shore it up against assaults from all sides.

Olivier Weiss is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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