Campaign spending implicates defeated ticket

Last Thursday, students voiced suspicions to the Elections Commission of College Council (CC) that the co-presidential ticket consisting of Emily Calkins ’14 and Ayodele Ekhator ’15 may have overspent on their campaign budget. It was later discovered that Calkins and Ekhator spent $127.75, exceeding the personal spending limit of $50 described at the outset of campaign season. In addition, the ticket submitted three expenditure reports with varying and inconsistent descriptions of the amount of money it spent. When this was discovered on Saturday before the results of the election were announced, the Elections Committee notified Calkins and Ekhator and their opponents Max Heninger ’14 and Adrian Castro ’14 that Calkins and Ekhator would receive a 5-percent deduction from their total vote count for the infraction. The Elections Commission later determined not to apply this disciplinary action when it became clear that the penalty would not affect the results of the election.

At the outset of the election process, all candidates for every position were made aware of the spending limit. “There is a spending limit of $50 (which does not include the cost of printing posters), for the duration of the campaigning period,” an e-mail to all CC candidates from outgoing CC co-presidents Krista Pickett ’13 and Peter Skipper ’13 stated. “We will adhere to an Honor Code-type system and trust that you will not spend exorbitantly.” For reference, the other co-presidential ticket consisting of Castro  and Heninger spent less than $30.

“We made it clear that we were going to be operating under an Honor Code system and that any questions from the candidates pertaining to spending or other campaign rules should come our way,” Pickett said.

The $50 was a personal spending cap, meaning that the candidates were permitted to spend $50 of their own money that CC would not reimburse. However, despite this directive, the CC bylaws state that each candidate would be permitted to spend $25 of personal funds and would be given $55 dollars of CC funding to spend. This year’s proceedings were based entirely on last year’s proceedings, and the decision to stray from what is stated in the bylaws was debated and decided on by last year’s Council.

The outgoing CC co-presidents were initially alerted of the possible overspending by multiple student complaints on Thursday. After this, the Elections Commission (including the two outgoing co-presidents and Treasurer Jillian Schwiep ’13) met and requested that all candidates send in their original receipts by Friday at 4 p.m. “It’s very standard operating procedure that anytime CC funds anything, original receipts are always required,” Skipper said.

On Friday, Calkins and Ekhator submitted a written report stating that they had purchased two items for their campaign, stickers and a banner, totaling $49.64. This report stated that the banner cost $17.50. The report did not include any receipts, so the Elections Commission gave the ticket until Saturday at noon to resubmit their budget. In the ticket’s second submission, the final cost of the banner was listed at $29.99 and the ticket reported spending $62.13 total. The second receipt also reported the size of the banner as smaller than the original write-up reported. This discrepancy pushed Pickett and Skipper to inquire further and request a screen shot of the actual purchase of the banner and stickers. This was submitted to the Elections Commission at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday and showed that the total cost of the banner, including a $50 shipping cost, was $95.61, bringing the ticket’s total personal spending to $127.75.

“To reconcile some of the cost [the ticket] returned [unused] stickers,” Skipper said. “But once we received that budget, it became clear that something didn’t add up because of the banner specifically. The cost was significantly more than it had been originally indicated.”

“A large chunk of which was because the candidates claimed to not recognize that shipping counted,” Pickett added.

Calkins and Ekhator attributed their overspending primarily to oversight. “Because I hadn’t been  careful sifting through all of this, I didn’t have all of the documents I needed,” Calkins said. “Frankly, I was very intimidated by the fact that I hadn’t thought about this.”

Ekhator added that they should have clarified any questions they had from the beginning. “One can always ask more questions and be more attentive,” Ekhator said.

In regards to the inconsistencies in their budget reports, the candidates admitted the mistake they had made and expressed their regret that it had not been handled more appropriately. “By the time we realized that we hadn’t prioritized [spending], neither of us was in a place to deal with it effectively,” Calkins said. “The whole process happened during voting, which very much distracted us and we had trouble responding in a focused and honest way.”

“How we went about reporting our budget could have been a bit more meticulous,” Ekhator said. “But given the stress of the campaign, it was a careless oversight.”

Once it was obvious to the Elections Commission that multiple infractions had occurred on the part of Calkins and Ekhator, the group began to discuss possible disciplinary action. While the bylaws state that “in the case of a violation of said rules the committee will be empowered to: a.) Suspend the candidates campaigning time b.) Disqualify the candidate in the case of multiple violations and/or grave violations,” the Elections Commission did not feel like those were appropriate responses for this issue.

“We did not feel like this infraction rose to the level that disqualification would warrant, and no other specific punishments were listed in the bylaws. We didn’t see that as a problem because we did say that we would be working on an Honor Code system,” Skipper said. “And that’s why we have the Elections Commission,” Pickett added.

The group deliberated Saturday, consulting with several different sources including Ben Lamb, assistant director for student involvement, Schuyler Hall ’10, operations coordinator of student life, Dean Bolton and Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, on the best way to proceed. They eventually decided that taking away 5 percent of the ticket’s final votes would be an appropriate punishment. “We were really judging the impact that the infraction had played on the election because any penalty would obviously seek to correct for that,” Skipper said. “We decided to do this because it’s a nominal punishment so it wouldn’t have a substantive result on the election. We wanted there to be some sort of ramification and a kind of disincentive to breaking the rules in the future that would not substantially change the results.”

Taking away 5 percent of votes from the ticket would only affect the outcome of the election in a very tight race, so the Elections Commission considered it to be a good repercussion, as it would serve as a “slap on the wrist,” according to Skipper, without changing the election results.

“While the authority to handle CC business belongs to the students … it seemed they had done good work in thinking through how best to move forward,” Bolton said.

When polls were closed on Saturday night, Castro and Heninger received 67 percent of the vote, while Calkins and Ekhator received 33 percent. When the Election Commission became aware of the results, they voted not to apply the 5-percent vote penalty. “We decided not to include information about the 5-percent penalty in the all campus email with the election results,” Pickett said. “It was a sympathetic decision – it was not that we did not want to share it.”

Calkins and Ekhator focused primarily on the incident being a moment that they “were not proud of” but that could be a teachable one. “There were inconsistencies, and we are not going to pretend that that is not the case,” Calkins said. “The only thing that we can say from here is that you make a mistake when you get to a point of stress and tension where addressing that mistake in the most honest way is very difficult if not impossible. The main thing I think should be stressed [to candidates] up front is that [spending] is a huge deal. There’s no such thing as too much emphasis on this.”