On Nov. 2, 2010, the 12th Undergraduate Senate passed legislation capping the amount of money any slate seeking executive office may spend on their campaign at $1,000.
The bill came in response to the 2008 election, in which Jonny Dorsey ‘09 and Fagan Harris ‘09 spent $3,597.31 and defeated David Gobaud ‘10 and Greg Goldgof ’08, who spent $3,768.55. The 10th and 11th Undergraduate Senates failed to pass bills containing caps.
ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11, who co-authored the bill with then-Vice President Kelsei Wharton ’12, said that the problem wasn’t an uneven financial playing field between slates, but a concern that some slates didn’t declare their intent to run because of financial constraints.
“I don’t necessarily think that money equaled success in the past,” Cardona said. “But I do think that money equaled even being able to run in the first place.”
Zachary Warma ’11, a member of the 11th Undergraduate Senate and former Daily columnist, felt that the amount of money was not as significant as Cardona and others made it out to be.
“To say money isn’t important in politics is insane,” Warma said. “There’s a way in which money helps, but at the end of the day, you have to run a smarter campaign and a better campaign. People can outspend you, but you can win as long as you do a couple of things really, really well.”
Current ASSU Vice President Michael Cruz ’12, who is running for executive this year with Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13, says his slate “simply would not have the financial capability” to run without the spending cap and the option of public financing.
Joe Vasquez ’11 said he and Tenzin Seldon ’12, who are also running for exec this year, would not be able to afford to put on a more expensive campaign similar to some of those run in the past.
Vasquez said the ASSU office “is definitely a lot more accessible for people of lower-income backgrounds like Tenzin and I.”
Cardona also believes that the bill is consistent with expectations in other facets of Stanford life.
“If you look at the heart of the bill, it’s very much in line with the Stanford culture of taking responsibility for your actions,” she said. “Just the way that our alcohol policy works, the same way that our honor code works. Stanford really gives you a sense of agency as an individual, and we’re expecting the same thing in the ASSU from our potential leaders.”
Rebecca Sachs ’13 was one of two senators who voted against the bill. She feels that the spending cap doesn’t address the main problems with ASSU elections.
“The cap doesn’t actually change the way the elections work, it just shifts it to being more digital, which it was already doing,” Sachs said. “It’s no longer about t-shirts and fliers, and that still doesn’t make it about the issues.”
Will Seaton ’13 also voted against the bill, citing skepticism of the feasibility of enforcing such a rule.
Cardona noted that the cap number of $1,000 could be changed in future years.
“This year is very much a pilot year,” Cardona said. “We do want to see how it plays out in practice, not just in theory. There is definitely room for flexibility in the future, but we thought $1,000 was a good starting point. We looked at a lot of peer institutions, and it was the highest number that any other school had for spending caps, and it’s on par with what Berkeley uses.”
Warma argued, however, that some language of the bill is too vague and could lead to issues.
“I see loopholes miles wide that if you read through this and you’re paying enough attention, you could do a lot of damage to campaigns,” Warma said. “You could throw what was otherwise an entirely reputable campaign into a legislative mess…some of these are the most cynical scenarios out there. But these are real possibilities. And that’s scary.”
Cardona said she doesn’t anticipate any problems with the spending caps this year.
“I know every slate, and I fully believe that they will do their best to abide by the new guidelines,” she said.
“You’ve made elections harder,” Warma said. “You’ve conceivably lowered the threshold for people to get involved financially…but what you have done is you’ve increased the threshold of difficulty for what is already a horrifically messy process. This was a well-intended, horrifically implemented bill.”
There are, nonetheless, some things the sides could agree on.
“I’m really happy in the end that they evened out the public financing and the non-public financing to $1,000 each,” Sachs said. “I think that that makes it more fair.”
Elections Commissioner Stephen Trusheim ’13 said he will begin working closely with the executive slates to educate them about the new campaign finance rules and procedures now that they have officially been approved.