How much can we spend on student elections?

By Max Saltman
Executive Staff

It’s officially over. We’ve elected a new SGA president after an attention-grabbing campaigning season, complete with lawn signs, t-shirts, stickers pasted on the doors of academic buildings, and even a presidential debate. Amid all this, however, certain elements of this year’s election made me wonder about Sewanee’s rules for spending on student campaigns.

As it turns out, the current regulations around campaign spending are unclear and uncodified. While the spending limit presented to student candidates before the election was marked as $150, that number appears nowhere in the student constitution, making it hard to enforce.

“There is clearly a need for [a] more clear and comprehensive student elections policy,” said Mac Bouldin (C’19), the outgoing SGA president, in an email. “Unfortunately, there are many policies and procedures in SGA which have not been properly documented.” Bouldin went on to say that while much of his presidency has been focused on putting rules down on paper, “regrettably, we have not done this for student elections.” However, there is hope. Bouldin assured The Purple that he would work with the new SGA president and senators on beginning the process to fix this oversight.

That said, the following are some suggestions for campaign spending I think the new president and SGA senators should consider. First, I’d suggest a $100 limit on campaign expenses or the equivalent value of items received by the campaign for free. It’s unfair that under the current rules (or lack thereof), a candidate with the privilege of free campaign material can skirt a $150 limit, while a candidate with less resources may not even have $150 to spend in the first place.

Second, if the new spending rules will be featured in the constitution, make the constitution public! I can’t find the SGA’s governing document anywhere on their website. If prospective candidates knew the rules from the get-go, there wouldn’t be any need for former presidents to help newly elected ones pick up the pieces after an election rife with questions about what the rules were.

In the first ever SGA Presidential Debate, held last week in Gailor Hall, both candidates answered queries about communication and transparency. While neither of their answers (or any answer they gave that night) made mention of spending limits for student campaigns, both argued in favor of more clarity around the general function of the SGA. I hope that this will translate into real and lasting change.      

Ultimately, I think this electoral season was good for Sewanee’s student democracy. We’re questioning the people who want to represent us, thinking for ourselves, and apparently putting in a lot of time and effort into our campaigns for student office. While some of us may campaign with maybe a little too much vigor, I’d rather have classmates passionate about student government than apathetic ones.