UT Supreme Court decreases penalty on Helgren-Kim campaign

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Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Supreme Court decreased the penalty levied against the Helgren-Kim campaign from a Class C to a Class A violation in an emergency appeal hearing Wednesday.

Executive alliance candidate Kevin Helgren filed an emergency appeal after the Election Supervisory Board determined the Helgren-Kim campaign violated the election code by failing to report a Class A penalty fine on their financial disclosure form and imposed a Class C violation on the campaign Tuesday night.

Zachary Stone, UT Supreme Court Chief Justice and Plan II senior, said the ESB has given warnings and Class A penalties — reductions in expenditure limits — to campaigns that did not submit financial disclosure documents in previous instances of financial disclosure violations.

“So many financial disclosure violations have taken place this year and last year,” Stone said. “To give this violation a Class C penalty, in the form of a lengthy campaign suspension and huge fine, is a dramatic and unexplained departure from the way this ESB and last year’s ESB treated other candidates.”

According to the original ESB ruling from Tuesday night, the Class C violation would have imposed a 48-hour moratorium upon the campaign that would have gone into effect on March 2 at 8 a.m. along with a fine of $205. Stone said the court reduced the Class C penalty to a Class A penalty to be consistent with previous ESB rulings regarding financial disclosure violations. 

According to the less severe Class A penalty, the campaign must pay a fine of $102.30. The campaign must report both the original Class A penalty fine of $59.50 and the second Class A penalty of $102.30 in their next financial disclosure.

“We weren’t convinced that this case was different — let alone worse — than any of those cases [in the past year],” Stone said. “As such, we reduced the penalty proportionately to what the ESB has been doing this year and last year.”

As of the March 1 financial disclosure, the Helgren-Kim campaign had $1.09 left in its spending budget. This most recent fine pushes the campaign over its allotted $1,023, but according to the SG election code, executive alliance campaigns have an extra 20 percent added on to their total spending budgets set aside for possible fines. 

Complainant Tanner Long, Student Government Speaker of the Assembly and government senior, said he firmly believes the Helgren-Kim campaign committed an election code violation, and he does not agree with the new Supreme Court ruling.

“The Supreme Court failed to understand the implications of filing a falsified financial disclosure by reversing the campaign moratorium and decreasing the fine imposed by ESB,” Long said. “The Supreme Court used a very roundabout way of establishing their conclusion in that they completely ignored precedent and strict language in the election code but still somehow managed to come to the conclusion that a violation was in fact committed.”

Helgren, neuroscience and psychology senior, said he and his campaign team did not think the ESB ruled fairly in imposing a Class C violation.

“This morning, we submitted an appeal to UT Supreme Court, and around 6:45 a.m., Chief Justice Zachary Stone put a temporary delay on the implementation of the Class C penalty ruling,” Helgren said.

Helgren said he and his campaign team are happy with the court’s new ruling.

“We stand by what we said in saying that a Class C violation was unnecessarily harsh,” Helgren said. “We think the court ended up making the most effective and objective decision, and we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing since day one — running a clean, issue-focused campaign.”