On April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling on McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission, striking down the Federal Election Campaign Act’s aggregate limits on the total amount a donor may contribute to all candidates and committees. Perhaps in protest to the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling — or perhaps not — the AAS Judiciary Council seems to be cracking down on campaign finance. Last week, the JC emailed students informing them a complaint expressing concern about excessive campaign expenditures during the run-off AAS Executive Election was filed. As a result, all the candidates who participated in the run-off election are under investigation, and the results of the E-board elections have yet to be released.
The JC’s efforts are certainly well-intentioned. Campaign expenditure limits are absolutely necessary, lest elections degenerate into a cookie-distributing popularity contest. As many problems as the AAS may have, we can be grateful that at least its elections are not as dysfunctional as federal ones. Since a complaint was filed, the JC must perform its due diligence and investigate. Nonetheless, its approach to the problem has been questionable.
The first issue that comes to mind is the wording of the email from the JC sent last Friday. The emails states, “these candidates are required to prove compliance with all campaign rules directly stated in the Constitution or risk disqualification…[and] are required to attend [a hearing] and to bring supporting evidence of their compliance.” This all seems to imply that the burden of proof rests not in the JC, but rather the candidates, i.e., the candidates are guilty until proven innocent.
How exactly will the JC verify that the expenditure limit has been violated, or how does a candidate prove that they are in compliance with the limit? If any candidates did violate the spending limit, the JC cannot realistically count how many fliers were actually printed nor can it prevent any candidate from destroying or failing to disclose receipts in excess of the the $15 limit. On the other hand, candidates are in compliance with the limit, how do they prove that they have not withheld any receipts?
This is not the first time that problems with campaign expenditures have arisen in AAS elections. By addressing this issue only after a run-off election has been completed and after a complaint has been filed, the JC’s timing could not be worse, and it reveals that the AAS has not earnestly attempted to formulate any long-term solution and is instead content to haphazardly deal with the issue when a complaint happens to arise.
There are various ways of resolving the issue of campaign expenditures. For example, the AAS could increase the limit to a more a realistic number and focus instead on restricting the ways in which candidates may spend their funds. If candidates want to print $50 worth of fliers, there is little reason to believe they would have an unfair advantage in the election. After a certain quantity, fliers elicit far more irritation than interest. But, if a candidate used funds to host a party or pass out free candy, then the JC may express concern and potentially intervene.
If the JC is, however, is distressed about excessive and gratuitous printing of campaign fliers, then candidates could send templates of their fliers to the JC and request a certain quantity be printed. Only fliers and posters that have been approved and marked by the JC would be allowed to be distributed around campus, and in this way, the JC could keep track of exactly how many fliers have been produced by each candidate, instead of attempting to count them ex post facto.
Hopefully, the AAS takes this opportunity to not just respond to this year’s election complaint, but to anticipate future problems that may arise and pursue long-term solutions.