Appropriating Punishment

In light of recent financial discrepancies in the College Council (CC) co-presidential campaign of Emily Calkins ’14 and Ayodele Ekhator ’15, we at the Record believe that it is appropriate to evaluate the process of CC campaign financing and contemplate appropriate punishments for overspending. The issues of overspending and the process of assessing repercussions that occurred in this election cause us to question not merely how this situation was handled, but how CC purports to handle such situations in its current bylaws and in future elections.

We must take issues of campaign spending seriously in order to maintain the integrity of CC elections. We value preserving a level playing field for all candidates, and it is important that we use this instance of overspending as a cautionary tale against future and potentially more extreme campaign finance scenarios. Looking to future elections, we must ensure that high campaign spending by one ticket is not permitted to influence an election or overshadow the qualifications of candidates. While we appreciate that the candidates’ misunderstanding of the severity of their actions contributed in part to overspending in this year’s campaign, we must guard against more egregious misuses of overspending in the future.

Further, we believe that this situation represents a breach of trust with the student body on the part of Calkins and Ekhator and a misstep on the part of the Election Commission, composed of current CC co-presidents Krista Pickett ’13 and Peter Skipper ’13 and Treasurer Jillian Schwiep ’13. Indications that Calkins and Ekhator initially failed to accurately portray their campaign spending indicate that the ticket was not prepared to honestly approach the community with its actions, which is particularly troubling as they were campaigning for CC’s highest office – an office that requires the utmost personal integrity. Further, by neglecting to inform the student body of the situation on Election Day, Pickett and Skipper did not properly fulfill their responsibility to the campus. We recognize that on a small campus like ours, personal relationships are of extremely important, but the CC co-presidents have a duty to the campus to accurately relate the actions of Council to the student body, and regardless of the punishment’s impact on the outcome of the election, the campus should have been informed of the discrepancies. Further, the 5-percent deduction to Calkins and Ekhator’s vote total should have been applied regardless of the election’s outcome to prove that CC takes this violation of campaign rules seriously and to deter similar actions in the future.

Bearing this in mind, CC can take concrete steps to avoid future issues of overspending. First, we believe that candidates should not be allowed to use personal funds for campaign spending. According to CC bylaws, candidates are given $55 of CC funds to spend on the campaign and can spend an additional $25 of personal funds. This year’s tickets were informed of spending policies that do not reflect this provision: Candidates were told they could spend up to $50 of personal money and CC would pay for printing costs. This is particularly troubling to us because candidates who have the ability to spend $50 of personal money may obtain an advantage over candidates who cannot afford to do so. In order to keep the election as open as possible, we believe that CC should cover all campaign funds.

To deter overspending, campaign funds could be accessible via a purchasing card with a set spending limit. The receipts from this purchasing card could be given to the Election Commission immediately following every purchase. This is particularly important because the Election Commission’s decision not to penalize Calkins and Ekhator occurred in the context of election returns, as Pickett and Skipper realized that a 5-percent deduction would not alter the outcome of the election. The Election Commission’s discretion makes a penalty for overspending a weaker deterrent, which could open the door to more serious overspending in the future. Further, the current CC co-presidents and the ticket that could assume office due to an opponent’s overspending should not be forced to make difficult discretionary calls about the appropriate punishment for the offending ticket.

Finally, we believe that when a system is put in place that sets clear and unmistakable rules for campaign spending, the punishment for overspending should be disqualification of the ticket. The purpose of this penalty is to serve as a strong deterrent, and with appropriate features in place, such as a purchasing card and immediate returns of receipts to the Election Commission, CC can place safeguards against overspending. It is too arbitrary to determine what degree of overspending correlates to a specific deduction of votes, and we further think that a uniform punishment serves as the strongest deterrent against overspending.

We hope that CC moves forward positively from this incident by placing safeguards against overspending on co-presidential campaigns and by creating and communicating clear repercussions for candidates from the onset of the campaign season.