MSA raises campaign spending

by Tracy Ellingson

For the first time, students elected to the Minnesota Student Association can have their positions revoked if they exceed campaign spending limits.
The organization voted at its forum Tuesday to allow the All-Campus Election Commission to declare successful candidates ineligible for office if they overspend on their campaigns. MSA members also approved an increase in spending limits for all MSA positions. The changes did not pass without opposition from a few MSA members who claimed they are unconstitutional, however.
This spring, undergraduate presidential candidates can spend up to $1,200, compared to $800 last year. After the elections, all candidates must turn in an itemized report of expenditures to the commission. If the commission decides to audit a candidate’s report, and the candidate’s treasurer is unable to provide proof of each expense, the candidate would be disqualified.
“If (candidates) don’t provide for every single dime,” said commission adviser Denise Tolbert, “(we) can invalidate their election.”
Until now, there were no rules in place to punish candidates who overspent. After last year’s election, several of the five presidential candidates accused each other of overspending. Although none of the four reports turned in showed more than $800, none were less than $795.
Candidates running for other student government positions will see a $100 spending limit increase, up to $300, for election advertising, supplies and other expenditures.
During the forum, a few of the organization’s members moved to eliminate the limits, calling them unconstitutional and unenforceable.
“A campaign is generally about ideas, the ideas behind the person. And when you limit the amount of money a person can spend on getting out those ideas, you’re limiting their speech, and that goes directly against our Bill of Rights in the First Amendment,” said MSA representative Bill Gilles.
Tolbert said a few of the commission members who worked on campaigns last year said an $800 spending limit did not accurately reflect the costs it takes to run a campaign.
Commission member Kristen Burke, who helped run MSA President Helen Phin’s campaign, said that although students are spending more money in the campus elections, they wanted to keep a level playing field by retaining spending restrictions.
“We wanted to maintain a cap, to make sure that everyone had the opportunity, and so someone couldn’t just be handed their father’s gold card to max it out,” said Burke.
Finance rules opponents were also concerned with the commission’s decision that candidates can only spend certain percentages of their total budgets on items, such as advertising and supplies. For example, under the newly adopted rules, candidates cannot spend more than 80 percent of their allotted money on advertising.
“What I don’t like,” Gilles told the forum, “is the ACEC rules commission telling us that we can only spend 80 percent of our budget on advertising. I don’t think it’s their place to tell us how to spend our campaign dollars.”