The Wesleyan Argus
February 1, 2011
By James Gardner, Staff Writer
Marked by everything from promotional bottle openers to mass e-mails, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) elections in recent semesters have inspired debate as well as campus-wide scrutiny over what is appropriate in student campaigns. However, plans for campaign finance reform may change protocol for future elections. Currently, members of the Wesleyan Charter of Democracy Matters, a non-partisan and national student organization, are working on a resolution to limit the funds available to students campaigning for WSA positions.
“The whole goal is that if you have a very wealthy student versus a student on almost a full ride, that student shouldn’t have to feel that he has to spend a lot of money giving people things like bottle openers,” said Corey Guilmette ‘13, head of Democracy Matters. “It shouldn’t be an advantage for people, whether they can’t afford to do things like that or whether maybe their uncle owns a printing press.”
Guilmette proposes giving all WSA presidential candidates $200 and vice-presidential candidates $150 to spend on campaigns. According to Guilmette, such an action would permit candidates to purchase only what they deem most necessary.
“If you think buying bottle openers is a good use of the $200, you can do that,” he said.
The resolution is intended to level the campaign finance playing field and eliminate the question of financial advantages in the electoral process, Guilmette said.
“We are trying to make it more ‘need-blind,’” he said. “There will never be a question of ‘Did they win because they had more money than the other group?’ It would be ‘They won because either they were more motivated, going door-to-door talking to people, or they had better ideas.’”
Guilmette added that capping candidate spending prevents any perceived need to outdo the competitor financially as well as the unnecessary disbursements of money.
“We want to give people the opportunity to get their name out there [however] they want, but limit it so that they can’t say ‘Well, they spent $200; I’m going to spend $1,000 to top that,’” Guilmette said.
The resolution had already attracted opposition from some students.
“This proposal is motivated by the idea that it is somehow possible to ‘buy’ your way to victory with bottle openers and other trinkets,” an anonymous source, familiar with WSA campaign protocol, wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “This isn’t the real world where people use mail, TV, radio ads, and hire lots of staff for a campaign—this is Wesleyan, and there’s nothing a student could spend money on which would actually help them win.”
In the previous WSA presidential election, WSA Vice President Ben Firke ’12 and current WSA President Micah Feiring ’11 distributed bottle openers and sent text messages to most of the student body, bothering some students and leading them to question the limits of appropriate campaign tactics.
Guilmette maintained that his desire to change the WSA electoral system is not a critique of Feiring and Firke’s 2010 campaign, but of the system that allows the use of personal funds, potentially placing students with less financial capability at a disadvantage.
“Ben Firke and Micah Feiring ran a very effective campaign last year,” Guilmette said. “We do not think that they acted unethically or unjustly in any manner. We have a problem with a system that promotes and necessitates the use of significant amount of personal money to win an election.”
Both parties attest to the need for compromise as they work on finding a middle ground for the election procedure on campus.
“I’ve spoken with Corey and the WSA will meet with Democracy Matters soon,” Firke wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “While the WSA’s senior leadership and Democracy Matters don’t currently agree on every detail of their resolution, I wholeheartedly share their concerns about the electoral system and agree in principle to many of their ideas.”
The Elections Committee of the WSA, which has sole authority over elections, details the intricacies of campaigning and lists its recommendations for spending and use of WSA supplies and techniques. The committee has made texting for the purpose of campaigning illegal, and has limited the amount of time candidates have to campaign.
Although Feiring did not respond to requests for a comment, Firke said he is optimistic about the outcome of the resolution.
“I’m sure we will have a productive discussion and produce a resolution that will be not only acceptable, but in fact preferable and satisfactory to all parties involved,” he said.