Senate debates bill to cap election spending

Feb. 10, 2010, 1:02 a.m.

As ASSU election season approaches, undergraduate senators and the elections commission seem to agree on one thing: creating an equal opportunity for all students to run for ASSU positions.

The floor, however, remains divided about how best to achieve those ends. Central to Tuesday evening’s “equal opportunity” debate over elections were crucial questions about spending for executive candidates.

Exec Spending Caps for Equal Opportunity Campaigning?

A bill that would enforce spending caps of $2,000 on elections campaigns and authored by ASSU Vice President Andy Parker ’10 was opposed by several senators, some of whom feared the caps would do all but level the playing field as groups solicit third parties to offer additional funding.

According to Quinn Slack ’11, the elections commissioner, passing the bill could “affect the quality of elections.”

“I don’t think that we can presuppose that it will be noncontroversial, that it will be enforceable,” Slack said. “Candidates are going to try to get around it, and that will greatly affect the legitimacy of the elections.”

The public financing option that Slack is pressing, which would allow candidates to be reimbursed up to $750, aims to allow students more freedom for innovation rather than to govern their spending limits. Slack, however, said that he wants to increase that amount — the matching funds may be slightly different from reimbursement, although he hasn’t said yet how much they could potentially increase.

Proponents of the bill suggested that the legislation be held until next year to allow adequate time for its review and to give candidates proper notice and time for adjustment as well as for consideration of other equity challenges.

Senator Shelly Gao ’11 said she thought spending caps would challenge the freedom of speech. Caps were rejected in a 1999 attempt.

Short Term Special Fees Reform, A Three-Pronged Approach

The Senate continued with additional strides in special fees legislation in what Administration and Rules Committee Chair Alex Katz ’12 called a “three-pronged approach,” with several measures intended to address short-term solutions to an explosion in refund rates.

Although previously students were allowed three weeks at the beginning of the quarter to submit refund requests, the proposed bill suggests shortening the refund period to two weeks with the hopes of reducing refunds. ASSU Financial Manager Matt McLaughlin ’08 anticipates that such a measure could cut between 100 and 150 refunds each quarter.

Additionally, a formal survey and a measure to apply the refund to the University account rather than as a check issued to the student might discourage refund requests, some senators said.

A final component of the bill would cover refund rates for student groups up to 16 percent this quarter, then drop down to 13 percent refund coverage in the spring and ten percent by next fall. The general fee would continue to be covered at a hundred percent.

Although the buffer fund hovers at $250,000, with the unprecedented increase in refund rates, this pool could evaporate rapidly if no changes are issued.

“We’d have two to three years of covering everything — probably even less.” Katz said, adding, “We don’t have the money.”

Katz also sees the measure as a step toward jumpstarting accountability for individual special fees groups.

“We want to help groups, but we also need to give them a kick in the butt and start getting out there to protect their own groups,” he said.

Joint Bylaws Amendment: Releasing SUID Numbers to VSOs

While increasing accountability for students that request refunds remains an agenda item for the Senate as it seeks to mitigate skyrocketing refund rates, many seem to agree that these aims cannot undermine student privacy.

Privacy was formally articulated in a bill intended to remove language that allows access to SUID numbers by student groups from the joint bylaws. As McLaughlin put it: “You have no choice but to pass this bill.”

Nanci Howe, associate dean and director of student activities, agreed that a bill that protects student privacy is crucial.

Senator Zachary Warma ’11 also enlisted his support for the bill for fear of “backlash” by “particularly vehement” VSOs.

Tommy Tobin ’10 returned to the Senate floor to again appeal to issues of the body’s transparency and consistency on matters of funding policies. He expressed disappointment with what he calls the inconsistency with which the Appropriations Committee exercises its discretion.

Tobin compared the case of SPOON, which was denied funding for some travel expenses in October, and that of the Black Student Union — which recently was approved for funding for other reasons — to demonstrate how the groups were treated with differently with regard to funding modifications.

Next Week

Among the action items for next week are several bills aimed at establishing a formal process in the future for the replacement of ASSU vice president in the event of resignation or removal, as well as establishing a formal process for approval of members of the executive and legislative bodies. A public hearing to determine sophomore Daniel Limón’s status as a senator for the remainder of the term, after a fall quarter leave of absence, will also be held next week.

All funding bills for this past week were unanimously passed.

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