Campaign finance sparks debate in student senate
March 16, 2016
Though campaign funding is usually a bigger issue in national elections, it can come into play in campus elections too.
Campaign spending was a hot button topic in this year’s student senate elections because of suspicious outside partisan funding.
Turning Point USA is a partisan organization that is backed by Gov. Bruce Rauner and aimed at supporting student candidates running in collegiate student elections who identify as republicans. Student senators said the organization offered students running for the senate $250 each for campaign funds. None of the candidates who made it to the University’s referendum ballot were offered endorsements from Turning Point USA.
“The student senate has taken some pretty anti-Rauner stances, especially on MAP grants and higher education funding,” said Tara Chattoraj, sophomore in LAS.
The Campus Student Election Commission (CSEC) bylaws are unclear as to whether outside organizations are allowed to contribute to students’ campaign funds.
“Some areas say that non-persons are not allowed to give money and in other places it says that non-persons are allowed to give money,” Chattoraj said. “It would be hard for them to do anything about it if there was money coming from organizations”.
Using partisan money raises concerns given the non-partisan position of the ISS.
“A lot of students feel that we shouldn’t be able to accept partisan donations and we know that some students were offered donations from Turning Point USA whose main goal is to help conservative students win student elections,” said Trisha Rodriguez, sophomore in LAS.
Accepting money from an organization with clear partisan agendas could have an effect on decision making in the student senate.
“Usually funding comes with a little bit of influence so anything that could potentially change someone’s vote on a resolution — besides reaching out to actual constituents — should be prohibited,” Rodriguez said. “You can make anything partisan if you want it to be partisan”.
Currently, students are allowed to be endorsed and sponsored by Registered Student Organizations which raises concerns for less direct influence.
“I would like to see no RSOs sponsoring candidates. To me, it kind of turns into an interest group. It creates an advantage that I don’t think is fair,” said Madi Scanlan, senior in ACES.
Rodriguez agreed that RSOs should not be donating to student campaigns.
Endorsements from outside groups and RSOs lead to questions concerning the role of money in student elections. In the most recent trustee elections, Collin Schumock, junior in LAS, spent upward of $500 while Spencer Haydary, junior in LAS, spent around $200.
Schumock won by 129 votes, a margin of 3.8 percent. Though Schumock spent more than double what Haydary spent, Jaylin McClinton, current student trustee and junior in LAS, said a large amount of funding is not necessary to win the election.
McClinton, though grateful for his endorsement from the Illini Democrats, prides himself on spending a minimal amount of money on his campaign and engaging with students one-on-one.
“My goal was to interact with students, so I went to the cultural centers, fraternities, sororities and had them introduce me to people,” McClinton said. “I would walk up to people and ask them if they had a quick second to talk and I would walk with them to their destination so they didn’t have to stop.”
He said his focus as a candidate was less on financial tactics and more on personal connections.
“Students should definitely be trying to engage with their respective peers and not relying on finances to get them their position because then it becomes a haves versus have-nots,” McClinton said.
Scanlan, along many other senators, was able to win her seat without monetary aid, simply by being an active member of the campus community and reaching out to students.
“Stopping all campaign financing would level the playing field and would actually force campaigners to talk and meet with their constituents rather than relying on advertising,” Scanlan said.