MSA campaign limits protect democracy

At the Minnesota Student Association’s first meeting of the millennium, the current policy of campaign-spending limitations was among the debated topics. The topic was part of a discussion about which rules for the upcoming all-campus elections should be recommended for change. Despite protest that the limitations are inappropriate and inconsistent with decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, MSA members correctly decided that they should remain in place. Elections to college-student governments, especially at a public university, should be as broadly accessible as possible and void of the unfair campaign influence that money provides.
The current provisions in MSA’s election process limit the spending of individual campaigns. In a campaign for either the presidency or vice presidency of MSA, each candidate is limited to total spending of $1,200. The spending limit of campaigns for all other positions is $300. These limitations have existed for nearly 30 years as part of an effort to ensure lower-income students have as much opportunity to participate in student government as do wealthier students.
These current limits have successfully ensured that students from many demographic groups seek membership in the University’s student government. MSA, or any democratic organization, only fulfills its obligations when it is truly representative of the population it serves. Diverse perspectives — of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and wealth — are necessary components to ensure that topics are discussed as thoroughly and with as much consideration as they deserve.
The current limits are also very generous. Allowing students to spend over a thousand dollars on the presidential elections ensures no candidate will lose a campaign because of lack of money. These campaigns do not include press secretaries or full-time staff members, and it is not necessary to spend a lot to be successful. Many of these candidacies are successful with simple photocopied flyers and volunteers who help voters become aware of candidates’ positions and relevant experience. Such elections are actually more democratic than their larger counterparts, as candidates spend more time meeting the voters than do professional politicians.
Although it offers an experience similar to an official governmental body, training of MSA delegates is just as important as the decisions they make. While campaign-spending limits might not be in place in federal or state elections, MSA’s role is not entirely similar. The University is not exclusively governed by MSA, while a federal or state government must abide by the rulings of an elected body. MSA and other student governments provide students with opportunities to participate in a democratic forum and learn about the process while they simultaneously pursue their educations.