UT should fund student government campaigns

Abby Springs

Each year, student government candidates line up on Speedway and West Mall to proclaim they are the best choice to represent UT’s diverse student body.

However, Student Government can only be truly representative if all students are able to campaign.

Running a campaign is expensive. This year, after all expenditures and fines, the Goodman-Jean alliance spent $602.96 and the Fanucci-Ivanova alliance spent $575.94. For a low-income UT student, the cost of running an executive alliance campaign can be nearly the same as a month’s rent. This is a significant disadvantage to students without the discretionary funds to finance their
own campaigns. 

Connections with fraternities and sororities — communities with significantly wealthier backgrounds — can also give campaigns an advantage in funding. This year, the Fanucci-Ivanova alliance used their connections to Greek life to garner campaign donations. 

“We called SigEp because Izzy (Fanucci) is a sweetheart of Phi Psi, so she has connections with these fraternities,” said Ian McEntee, a campaign agent for the Fanucci-Ivanova alliance, during an Electoral Supervisory Board hearing. “We had called to ask if they could donate to us.” 

With the high price tag for campaigns and financial influence from the Greek system, UT should consider a public funding option, providing funds for student government campaigns. Under this system, elections would become more equitable for low-income students without financial help or stability.

A publicly funded campaign system is already in place at schools such as Iowa State University and North Carolina State University.

“We wanted all students to have the opportunity to run, so we found that the cost to offer public funding was worth paying,” said Seth Carter, treasurer for Iowa State’s student government. 

ISU allots $6,000 to campaigns, split evenly between each campaign slate. Candidates also have the option to privately fund their campaigns, but each candidate has the same funding limit. Iowa State’s system ensures anyone on campus can run for student government, regardless of socioeconomic status.

“I’d say it’s working and has allowed more availability for slates to declare a run for presidency,” Carter said.

A candidate with a higher budget has more resources to spend on outreach, tabling and promotional materials. With over 50,000 students on campus, promotion and name recognition are essential to running a successful campaign. In the most recent election, candidates spent money on shirts, stickers, posters, flyers, buttons and even custom berets. 

Not every student can afford these expenses. One in four UT students face food insecurity, while the cost of living in Austin continues to rise. Textbook prices have risen at four times the rate of inflation. Roughly 43 percent of UT students graduate with student loan debt, with the average debt being $24,883.

Plan II freshman Kerry Mackenzie said she used funds she had left over from a scholarship to fund her campaign for university-wide representative. 

“I’m so thankful that I had money sitting around to be able to use toward (my campaign),” Mackenzie said. “But I do think we should be able to make Student Government campaigning accessible to everybody.”

A publicly funded campaign system would ensure each student has a fair and equal shot at representing the student body. UT could model it after Iowa State, where candidates evenly split a campaign allotment. Or, students could apply to a need-based campaign grant giving low-income students a fair chance against well-funded campaigns. 

Debt, food insecurity or any other economic concern should never determine whether or not students can run for elected positions in Student Government. Low-income students deserve the same chance as anyone else to represent UT’s economically diverse student body.  

Springs is a government freshman from Dallas.