Spending limits affect SG campaigns

Jody Serrano

Corrected on Feb 15: Due to a reporting error, the article inaccurately claimed Mulugheta and Desai's campaign acquired $234 in fines. They acquired $126 in fines and would not have been disqualified under the new Election Code guidelines.

Students seeking a position in Student Government may face a pricey challenge in the 2012 general elections because of new rules stating violation fines will now be deducted from a candidate’s total campaign spending limit.

Passed on Jan. 17 in an amendment to the University Election Code, the new rules state a candidate may not exceed more than 20 percent of his or her spending limit for a campus-wide election. This includes any material or service candidates purchase for their campaign as well as any fines incurred from campaign protocol violations.

Any candidate who spends more than $1080, or 20 percent of their spending limit, will be disqualified by the Election Supervisory Board, the student-appointed group that oversees all campus-wide elections.

The new provisions also extend the Board’s jurisdiction to include off-campus sites like the University Co-op and the Dobie Center. Candidates are still allowed to set up their own polling locations and encourage people to vote on their sponsored computers or electronic devices, but cannot be within 20 feet of a Supervisory Board-sponsored polling station.

Until now, candidates have not had to worry about campaign fines impeding their candidacy. Last year’s candidates Natalie Butler and Ashley Baker acquired approximately $405 in campaign fines, about 50 percent of their total campaign budget.

UT alumnus Abel Mulugheta and marketing senior Sameer Desai ran against Butler and Baker in 2011 and acquired $234, approximately 21 percent in violation fines.

Under the new Election Code provisions, both campaigns in last year’s election would have been disqualified for their spending violations.

Some violations by both camps included inappropriate use of signs, height violations in the A-frame advertising boards, chalking on campus and early campaigning before the official date set by the Dean of Students.

Dean of students Soncia Reagins-Lilly serves as the official advisor of the Election Supervisory Board and said she supported the new rules.

“The [Student Government] Assembly considered the recommendations presented and approved a provision they feel is in the best interest of the student body,”

Reagins-Lilly said. “The action was in response to feedback offered by previous candidates.”

Butler said if given the chance she would increase the spending limit from $900 to at least $2000. She said $900 between herself and Baker bought them T-shirts, fliers and signs, but not much else.

“People are going to be more careful campaigning this year,” Butler said. “People are also going to be pettier and file small complaints to have people pushed out. If you get $10 or $20 fines, it can [eventually] kick you out. It all depends on the people running.”

Currently, students running for president and vice president have a $900 spending limit in campus-wide elections. Students running for University-wide representatives have a $550 limit. Students running for representatives of their respective college have a $350 limit. All candidates are allowed an extra $150 if they participate in a runoff election, according to the University Election Code.

Liberal arts representative Janette Martinez served on the committee that ratified the election code and said the committee wanted to give the Supervisory Board more power and encourage them to establish presets for fines and violations instead of deciding on fines on a case-by-case basis. Martinez said these new rules in a way reward candidates who play by the rules because it gives them more money to spend. If on the last day of campaigning they do not have any fines they can afford to spend a little more money and not get disqualified, Martinez said.

“I do not think the new rules will make it more difficult to campaign,” Martinez said. “I think it makes the races fair. In the past, if you went over your campaign expenditures you could still win the election. [This] makes it a lot fairer with the candidates, especially those who do not have a lot of experience in SG.”

Students have until 5 p.m. on Feb. 13 to declare their candidacy for SG president and vice president — or executive alliance — campus-wide representatives and college representatives. Elections will take place Feb. 29 to March 1. The recently approved student tuition referendum will also be on the ballot.

Currently, the executive alliance dual-candidates include Spanish and finance senior Madison Gardner and public relations senior Antonio Guevara, government senior Yaman Desai and government junior Whitney Langston. Urban studies senior John Lawler and computer science sophomore Terrence Maas said they are also running for the position.

Butler said she acknowledged under these new rules both she and Mulugheta would have been disqualified. She said if this new election code would have been in place the Supervisory Board may have evaluated the fines differently. She said she would advise this year’s candidates to follow the Election Code because violating the new rules may hurt their campaign if they do not.

“Prioritize your speaker circuit and get your face out there — the more volunteers the better,” Butler said. “Get out there and speak for yourself.”