Spending limits in SG elections will foster diversity

Amber Magee

AB 9: Campaign Finance Reform passed the Assembly on Feb. 2 and will be implemented starting fall 2016. AB 9 reduced Student Government campaign spending limits by up to 60 percent for representative elections and student body president and vice president elections. Student Government frequently omits the viewpoints of students who lack a disposable income to spend on student organizations, and AB 9 was written in hope of encouraging these students to pursue office.

Student Government stands as the official voice of students at UT-Austin to administrators, the UT System, the Texas legislature and even Congress. As such, Student Government should make good efforts to speak in the best interests of the 50,000 students on the 40 Acres. While this is no easy feat, simply walking into an SG meeting will be disconcerting, as the majority of students who sit in the legislative Assembly come from only a few spaces on campus. According to the UT Dean of Students website, as of 2013, there were 5,211 student members in Interfraternity Council and University Panhellenic Council. Of 35 current members in the 2015–2016 Assembly, at least 10 of those members are from IFC/UPC and another three or four representatives are currently involved in a smaller community of spirit groups. While there is nothing inherently negative about these student leaders being active members of Student Government, one can imagine that with over 40 percent of the Assembly being heavily involved in an area of campus that holds only 10 percent of students (Greek life plus spirit groups), we are often missing a large group of students. Some students on the 40 Acres struggle with the shuttle services from East Austin, while others struggle with the increasing costs associated with living in Austin. These two issues have been largely untouched by the Assembly in years past, and the only path for advocacy is direct engagement with the students who live in these realities.

I have been involved in Student Government for three years now, and each year, elections come and go without a substantial difference in the groups of students who participate in and win elections. Under the Rotnofsky-Mandalupu administration, increasing representation and student connection with SG has been a central theme. Last May, we identified the trend in SG elections to spend a significant portion of money, and it’s a well-known fact that not all students have access to a disposable income that can be used to finance a student campaign. Last semester, students were opposed to the tuition increase because an extra $150.00 really would be a large financial burden, so it’s unfathomable to imagine that these same students would be willing to spend that money in a student election. It is true that spending excessive amounts of money in elections doesn’t always correlate to winning, but there exists a notion that you need to spend a certain amount of money in order to be competitive in SG elections. The heart of campaign finance reform was to dispel that notion and encourage more students to run from backgrounds and vantage points that SG has not seen in large numbers. As members of Student Government, we love to say that we represent students and we voice their views, but that voice has been incongruous with the true needs of students for quite some time, and AB 9 seeks to harmonize student issues with the faces of student advocacy.

Magee is a public health senior from McComb, Mississippi. Magee is the Student Government administrative director. Follow her on Twitter @NewReginaGeorge.