ASSU explains impetus for spending cap

May 9, 2011, 2:03 a.m.

One of the last bills passed by the 12th ASSU Undergraduate Senate before its April 26 turnover imposed a campaign spending cap of $400 on future class president slates. The cap came after years of what many considered overspending on branded apparel to promote candidates.

“The point of the campaign is to get you to actually engage with people one on one, so that you aren’t just buying really extravagant parties or merchandise,” said Dan Ashton ’14, deputy chair of the 13th Undergraduate Senate.

The cap was set at $400 in order to strike a balance between allowing candidates to get their names out around campus and restricting them to a reasonable and fair level of promotion.

“The idea is to limit the need to blow money on it and make it more about the candidates and the issues that they’re standing on,” Ashton said. “I think everyone would agree that…it was the necessity to [in order to] get your name out there you had to be that extravagant.”

Lauren Felice ’14, whose slate Face To Face lost in the most recent sophomore class president election, co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. Felice said the name of her slate came from the group’s hope to emphasize personal communication.

“It was a risky tactic that didn’t pan out, but I still feel like the concept has value,” she said.

For class president slates, money is largely spent either on merchandise, like shirts and sunglasses, or on gatherings and parties. Felice said the $400 cap “cuts out heavy spending,” like buying hundreds of expensive items for the class, but still allows for spreading the slate name in small ways, like flyers.

“I felt like in all of the class president races, money was a factor,” Felice said.

Although Face To Face did not keep an exact account of its spending, Felice said the group did exceed $400 in its campaign spending.

The winning slate for sophomore class president, The Quad, aimed to increase its visibility by handing out t-shirts, sunglasses and bike seat covers in addition to posting flyers and a large banner near Meyer Library. Members of the slate said they supported the spending cap bill.

“Spending caps allow slates to demonstrate how resourceful they can be,” said Dhruv Amin ’14, a member of The Quad slate. “When elected, they have to be resourceful with the limited budget that class officers have.”

Amin said the group debated how much to spend on the campaign beforehand and, based on the budgets of past slates, self-imposed a spending cap of $600 to try to show that they could spread their name inexpensively by finding good deals. Still, Amin said spending was the lesser part of the campaign.

“It’s only going to help you get your name out there, but there’s no replacement for getting out and meeting everyone,” he said. “We always went in knowing we weren’t going to win it without knowing the entire freshman class.”

In addition to the promotion of personal interaction during a campaign, the cap also serves to lower the financial barrier to be able to run on a class president slate. The 12th Undergraduate Senate passed a similar bill in November, limiting ASSU Executive slates to $1,000 after looking back on a 2008 election where each executive slate spent nearly $4,000 campaigning.

“People have been trying to make it a fair system for a while so that people don’t spend over the top,” Ashton said. “It became the kind of thing where you needed to spend a certain amount of money to compete with other slates.”

“When people see people walking around with a slate’s t-shirts everywhere, I think it’s a little intimidating for other people who in the future feel like they want to run for class president but don’t feel like they can spend the money to provide that,” Felice said.

According to Ashton, there is also a movement in the ASSU to potentially provide some campaign funding to serious candidates who are on financial aid in order to further level the field. No specific bill has yet been proposed on this matter.

The class president spending cap bill was originally intended to impose a similar cap on Undergraduate Senate candidates but was cut down to cover only class president slates. The main reason for striking the language regarding senators was confusion over the typical senate candidate endorsements and how to account for goods that the candidates themselves do not purchase.

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