Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems — CCSC’s Money, No Problems?
Written by Bwog Staff
When an email about campaign finance reform landed in Bwog’s inbox, we began having nightmares of Congressional debates fueled by the best arguments the lobbyists of K Street could supply. Fortunately, the information we received actually concerns some changes recently put forward by our own, arguably less venal CCSC. University Senator David Ali, C’07 President David Chait, and CCSC Policy VP Izumi Devalier, the authors of a recently adopted proposal for such a reform, argued that the current lack of funding for candidates and elections’ inevitable costs result in low participation. This, they claimed, favored incumbents, who were more likely to be invested in their positions and be willing to spend to retain them. They also noted that funding student campaigns would bring Columbia in line with other Ivy League schools; Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth all offer some form of aid to candidates, and all other Ivy League councils (including SEAS’) in some way oversee candidates’ spending. “The lack of constraints placed on campaign spending, coupled with the absence of campaign funding support undermines electoral health and runs contrary to the principles of equal access,” they concluded.
The campaign finance changes will allow the use of CCSC funds to support candidates, though it limits them to very specific amounts of certain materials. For example, a student running for a class council position will be restricted to 100 8.5×11″ sheets of subsidized, photocopied paper, while one running for University Senator or Academic Affairs rep would receive 400. The CCSC would also underwrite tape and $10 in domain name expenses. According to Devalier, CCSC will not be monitoring personal spending beyond what candidates are given, however. “What this proposal tries to do is to level the playing field,” she told Bwog. “People may still overspend, but since we have almost all of the bases covered in terms of what CCSC pays for, there really should be no need to go beyond what is covered here.” She added that Facebook ads, among other fancy online campaign tools, were banned anyway.
With no CCSC candidates really soliciting campaign donations, Bwog can’t really see any free speech objections resulting from the new provisions. We’re looking forward to what could be one of the fairest — and most open — CCSC elections in history.
See the proposal and the full changes after the jump.
Proposal for Campaign Finance Reform
Presently, there is no campaign funding support offered for candidates participating in Columbia College Student Council elections. Moreover, because there are no limits placed on the amount of money candidates can spend on CCSC elections, campaigns end up being costly, discouraging many otherwise interested students from running.
As the primary representative and advocate of the Columbia College community, the CCSC is charged with gathering and expressing student opinion, actively representing student views and appropriately addressing student concerns. In order to fulfill this charge, the Council must ensure that CCSC positions are open to all students regardless of race, gender, sex, creed, sexual orientation, or economic standing. A truly representative body is the product of an electoral system that encourages students of all backgrounds to run for office.
Currently, the costs associated with CCSC campaigns discourage many interested individuals from running. This not only disadvantages students who cannot afford to absorb campaign expenses, it also gives incumbents an unfair advantage because they are already invested in the Council system and can more readily stomach campaigns costs for a possible return (election). The result is a dwindling candidate participation rate and loss of election competitiveness. For example, in the unusually uncompetitive 2006 Spring Elections, three positions (two student services representative seats and the pre-professional, scholarships and fellowships representative seat) remained uncontested.
While other University student governments have taken the initiative to level the playing field for candidates running for office, the Columbia College Student Council continues to lag behind its Ivy League counterparts in providing campaign funding support for its students. Four out of the eight Ivies – Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton – offer some form of financial support to student campaigns. Other schools have made an effort to ensure equality among candidates by establishing a spending limit for campaigns. In fact, of all the Ivy League student governments (including the Engineering Student government at Columbia University), the Columbia College Student Council is the only organization that does not limit campaign spending.
The lack of constraints placed on campaign spending, coupled with the absence of campaign funding support undermines electoral health and runs contrary to the principles of equal access.
We propose that the Columbia College Student Council work with the CCSC Elections Board to implement a new campaign financing program, beginning with the Spring 2007 general elections.
Overview of the program
The new program will be funded by the Columbia College Student Council and administered by the CCSC Elections Board. The program will provide recognized, non write-in candidates with funding for all basic campaign-related costs including:
1) Printed Materials: The full number of allocated posters as prescribed in Article VI, Section C of the Candidate Rules and Regulations:
– E-Board: 1000 8.5”x11” sheets per ticket, or 200 sheets per candidate.
– Class Councils: 500 8.5”x11” sheets per five-person ticket, or 100 sheets per candidate.
– Senate, Academic Affairs, Student Services, Pre-Professional Representative Positions: 400 8.5”x11” sheets per candidate.
The CCSC will underwrite printing/photocopying expenses at 2872 Broadway Village Copier for posters printed with black ink on colored paper. Upon charging purchases on CCSC’s account with the store, candidates must submit all invoices to the Elections Board for verification. In the event of botched copies or poster redesigns, no funding will be provided for printing/photocopying exceeding the allocated limit.
2) Tape: For E-Board and Class Council tickets, CCSC will distribute one roll of tape per candidate. For all other at-large positions (Senate, Academic Affairs, Student Services, Pre-Professional) CCSC will distribute two rolls of tape per candidate. The Council will not provide reimbursement for tape/adhesive materials bought with the candidate’s own money
3) Websites: Up to ten dollars for domain name registration and related costs per ticket (or candidate if candidate is running individually). The campaign must produce a receipt of the domain name purchase to the CCSC Elections Board, which will then reimburse the candidate. The Council will not cover web-related costs exceeding ten dollars. Students are encouraged to utilize available free resources such as the 40MB default space quota on their CUNIX account.
Although yearly fluctuations in election participation rate make it difficult to produce accurate cost estimates, the following scenarios are based on initial feedback from Village Copier and election trends from the past few years. According to Village Copier, a standard printing job for 400 8.5”x11” posters printed with black ink on colored paper costs around $52 (including tax). We estimate the wholesale price of a roll of general masking tape to fall under $2.
Using these values, we have produced the following cost estimates for each election:
– E-Board: $150 per ticket (Printed materials: $130; Tape (five rolls): $10; Website: $10)
– Class Councils: $85 per full ticket (Printed materials: $65; Tape (five rolls): $10; Website: $10)
– Senate, Academic Affairs, Student Services, Pre-Professional Representative Positions: $66 per candidate (Printed materials: $65; Tape (two rolls): $4; Website: $10)
Based on these estimates, the program would have cost CCSC $1030 for the Spring 2006 general elections, whose field of recognized, non write-in candidates included 2 E-board tickets, 5 senate candidates, 2 candidates for academic affairs and a total of 7 class council tickets. If applied to the Fall 2006 first year elections, which included a field of 7 tickets, the program would come out to $455, meaning that the program would have cost the CCSC no more than $1500 for the 2006 fiscal year.
We recognize that as this program opens doors for more candidates to run, program costs will increase accordingly. However, we believe that the benefits of this program – in its ability to fulfill the principle of equal access to CCSC elections and transform the Council into a more representative body – strongly outweigh the costs.
David Ali ’07 Senator, David Chait ’07 CC Class of 2007 President, Izumi Devalier ‘07 VP Policy of CCSC
Submitted 3 December 2006
Adopted unanimously 3 December 2006