Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review
With 26 candidates running in this year’s Associated Students Board of Directors election, the race was as close as ever. While each candidate brought their own unique strengths to the table, they were all equal on one level: campaign funding.
For this year’s election, a new policy in the election code made it possible for candidates to receive up to $100 in funding from a pool of money set aside by the AS. According to the new policy, the total amount of money available to all candidates and campaigns is $2,500. If more than 25 candidates request funding, then the $2,500 will be divided equally among those who request funding.
Remy Levin, the AS elections coordinator, said that 21 out of 26 candidates requested public financing. A total of $1,952 was distributed to candidates.
Levin said that the majority of candidates used the public financing funds for posters, banners, tape, T-shirts and flyers. He said that candidates were not allowed to use the funds for food or hiring people to help them with their campaigns. Levin said that some campaign expenses - for example, requests from candidates for public funds to pay for candy to hand out to students along with campaign materials - were not approved for public financing.
Levin explained that implementing a public financing policy was something that other elections coordinators had tried in the past, but had never been able to do. Now that the policy has been written into the election code, Levin said that it has encouraged people who may not have run for elected office due to monetary issues to enter the election.
“In the elections, money does play a pretty significant role in running a good campaign,” Levin said. “In the past, lots of candidates and students just couldn’t afford to drop $100 in running for office.”
Levin said that voter turnout in the elections was the highest it had been in 18 years, and that the high turnout could be partially attributed to the new policy. He said that many candidates used public funds to make nicer posters, banners and other campaign materials, resulting in more professional campaigns that attracted more voters.
“This policy in general I think helps all campaigns, even those who can afford to spend the money, to be more professionalized and to run a better campaign,” Levin said. “Something we saw this year was a lot more [high quality] posters, not just handmade ones.”
“I think there’s a cumulative effect and it increases the engagement of the candidates in the election process and consequently the engagement of the student body in the elections,” he added.
Iris Maute-Gibson, the vice president-elect for governmental affairs, said that her success was a direct result of the availability of public financing. Maute-Gibson used the entirety of the $100 available to her.
“It definitely leveled the playing field,” she said. “Though I still would have run had I not had funding, I definitely attribute my success in the elections to public financing because I wouldn’t have spent that money at all.”
She said that any program that makes leadership positions more accessible to a wide range of students is something that the AS should “wholeheartedly support.”
For Travis Peters, the vice president-elect for business and operations, publicly financed funds played a significant role in his campaign as well. He said that without the $100 given to him through public funding, it would have been very difficult for him to run the same quality of campaign that he did.
“I fear that had this program not been in existence, I wouldn’t have been able to put myself out there and people might not have seen that I cared about being helpful in this way to the school,” he said.
However, Peters said that because the $2,500 pool is collected from the quarterly fee that students pay to fund the AS, some students might not want their dollars supporting the program.
“I might have personal mixed feelings about how it is that they allocate that fund. Maybe students don’t want to see contributing money from the fees that they pay to go toward funding something like this,” he said. “If the board sees that it’s necessary for us to raise these funds, then maybe the AS offices or the board should look into doing some sort of fundraiser that doesn’t involve student spending.”
The total campaign-spending limit for any candidate was capped at $150, including any portion from public funds a candidate may receive. Levin said that in the past, there were candidates who could afford to spend $150 out of their own pocket, while those who couldn’t afford it may not have spent anything.
“Now, there’s at least access to a large majority of those funds for most candidates,” Levin said. “So the financial gap between candidates from wealthier backgrounds and candidates from less wealthy backgrounds has narrowed significantly.”