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Revisiting the JC Decision: The Story of the Dissenting Party

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(Elaine Vilorio)– The 2014 presidential run-off election has caused a stir, and with good reason. Its results were delayed by a complaint, appropriately filed within 24 hours of the voting date (in this case, Wednesday, April 9). The complaint, filed by Pierre Joseph ‘15 and Joshua Ferrer ‘17, argued that, given the size and amount of campaign posters, there was reason to investigate the candidates’ compliance with the $45 limit on campaign expenditures. Although the JC found one candidate guilty of overspending, the complaint was dismissed. This decision does not just reflect a misinterpretation of the AAS constitution’s definition of “campaign expenditures.” It is, more practically, a slight to low-income students who may want to run for a position within the AAS.

“I filed the complaint as a matter of principle. Not every student on campus has an extra $50 to spend on a campaign. The average student working seven hours at $8.50 is only making $59.50. When you subtract snacks and laundry, it doesn’t leave much left to be spent frivolously. By virtue of running for office, candidates are held to the highest of standards. For the JC to change the rules of the game on the final play is disgusting and should make every student upset,” Joseph said.

Amani spent a total of $59.75 on her campaign. That this was allowed is baffling and hits me especially hard as a low-income student. I know for certain I could never afford to spend much on a campaign, much less $59.75. This spotlight on the JC ruling does not have an ulterior motive. The JC decision should be revisited simply because it allows for a group of students to be at a disadvantage.

While there has been widespread coverage of the JC majority opinion, the dissenting party’s opinion and experience has received less attention. The dissenting opinion was unfairly excluded from the school-wide e-mail, only made available via a link. This is troubling because the dissenting party, comprised of Servet Bayimli ‘16 and Chloe McKenzie ’14, has a valid argument.

On Sunday, April 13, the public JC meeting was held in the Morris Pratt Ballroom. Presidential and vice presidential candidates submitted proofs of compliance in the form of receipts and itemized lists. Amani submitted receipts totaling $39.40. The other presidential candidate, Peter Crane ‘15, reportedly spent $31.60. After the public meeting, a second meeting—this one private—was held in a study area, still inside of Morri Pratt Dormitory.

McKenzie voiced the concern that Amani may have had another large poster. She thought she saw Amani’s poster had gray in it when she saw it in Val. The large poster Amani presented to the JC only contained blue and yellow. JC members then started to deliberate the possibility of a second large poster. Liya Rechtman ‘14 proposed Amani be called back, to which Acting Judiciary Chair Joseph Kim ‘14 agreed. Bayimli deemed the suggestion inappropriate because it would be off-record and unfairly singled out a candidate. McKenzie was part of the party that wanted to bring Amani back. Amani was brought back and asked if there was another large poster, different from the one she presented. She responded that there was not. Then, Kim asked if there were any other posters. Amani responded that there were, deviating from what she said in the public hearing. She asserted she had 50 extra posters. McKenzie asked why the 50 extra posters were printed. McKenzie wondered if they were printed because of mistakes on other posters, a reason she deemed justifiable. Amani explained that the posters were originally meant to be put up. However, she had changed her mind because the posters in question did not fit the style of her campaign. She said she was present for the election scandal of 2012, so, she paid special attention to the rules. Kim asked for the 50 posters’ receipt and then dismissed her. According to those receipts, Amani spent $20.35 on the extra posters, comprising a total spending of $59.75.

The JC meeting met for a third time on Monday, April 14 in Fayerweather at 8 p.m. McKenzie began the meeting by sharing the conclusion that Amani was non-compliant based on the definition of “campaign expenditures.” According to McKenzie, although Amani did not use the extra posters, they were still considered campaign expenditures. Thus, Amani had exceeded the spending limit and had broken regulation. Bayimli shared that he contacted IT to verify printing made on the College’s Pharos printing system. However, IT specialist Eloy Shepard said this couldn’t be done without having the candidates waive the rights granted to them by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Rechtman asserted that the receipts from OAS were unnecessary anyway, as the candidates were held accountable through an honor system. Rechtman further argued that it would be inappropriate to ask students to waive their FERPA rights. Allan Landman ‘14 and McKenzie responded by saying students waived their FERPA rights all the time. McKenzie gave the example of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), whose rights she relinquishes at the onset of every soccer season so that her coach may know her medical information. McKenzie proposed that, if the candidates did not want to waive their rights, they should present some alternative form to prove compliance. Kim argued that he did not want to back the candidates into a corner by asking them to waive their rights. Rechtman supplemented that the JC was not an investigative body, to which McKenzie and Bayimli argued that it was. It was, in fact, stated to each candidate that the JC would try to verify all of the expenditures made. Kim then made the executive decision to not investigate further.

A straw poll was later taken on the general opinion regarding the definition of “campaign expenditures.” Bayimli confirmed a definition of campaign expenditures on Westlaw, a legal research database. In response, an individual on the majority stated that the JC was not the Supreme Court. Someone else on the majority followed this up by saying “We are not America.” Citing Article V, Section 8, Clause 2 of the AAS Constitution, the dissenting party argued that Amani had broken the rules. The majority party argued that because Amani had kept the posters in a private space, they did not count towards “campaign expenditures.” Rechtman motioned that Amani’s 50 posters shouldn’t count towards campaign expenditures. Bayimli and McKenzie objected to the motion. Bayimli suggested Amani’s name not be specifically used in order to set a more general precedent and not target her. Thus, the majority changed the definition of “campaign expenditures” to mean “those campaign materials visible to the Amherst College community in public spaces.” McKenzie asked to clarify, citing that the “Amherst College community” was too ambiguous an audience. The question was dismissed and the motion to limit the definition of “campaign expenditures” was passed with Bayimli and McKenzie dissenting. Rechtman proposed a second motion to dismiss the filed complaint. Bayimli dissented and McKenzie abstained as they did not agree with the majority’s definition of “campaign expenditures.”

McKenzie and Bayimli will be speaking to the Senate during its next meeting, to be held on Monday, April 21 in Pruyne Lecture Hall in Fayerweather Hall at 8:30 p.m. to share their concerns with this decision. McKenzie finds fault with limiting the definition of “campaign expenditures,” and will note the “seriously problematic jurisprudence” of the decision. Bayimli will argue that this accommodation puts low-income students at a disadvantage, touching on the cultural implications of the decision. Low-income students may hesitate to run for office because the flexible handling of the definition of “campaign expenditures” could potentially deny them equal opportunity. A group of students in support of McKenzie and Bayimli will also be attending the senate meeting. I urge all students interested in this issue to attend. It is my hope that the AAS see and remedy the unfairness of the JC decision.

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14 comments on “Revisiting the JC Decision: The Story of the Dissenting Party

  1. Anonymous
    April 20, 2014

    What’s done is done. Yes, Peter lost to Amani by 2 votes. Yes, I supported Peter in the campaign. But the people voted for Amani, the JC found her “innocent,” and I have confidence that Amani will do a wonderful job as AAS President. There’s no sense in complaining about it anymore because it only sounds like whining and immature complaining.

    • Pierre Joseph
      April 20, 2014

      Look at the larger issue here… The Constitution outlines particular rules candidates are required to follow by virtue of running a campaign. The JC changed the rules on the final play of the game. If you don’t think there is something wrong with that, you should give the issue another look.

    • kevin ellis
      May 1, 2014

      Surely this is satire!? Kevin Ellis ’81

  2. d
    April 20, 2014

    It’s not complaining, it’s a matter of fairness. Yes Amani (allegedly) only put up the posters she spent $39.40 on, but taking down the other posters because they didn’t fit with her campaign style is a privilege she can afford that I and many other students would have to jump hoops to finance. She had the money to spend to change her campaign, and it was unfair to go over the limit when her competitor could just have easily claimed that he too needed to make his posters fit more clearly with his message. This situation could just have easily been solved if she had reported that her previous posters did not comply with the strict campaigning rules (as I assume occurred in 2012) and asked for special permission to reprint. Then she and her opponents would each be given a reasonable financing cap that would accommodate those who can’t afford the extra costs.

  3. Anonymous
    April 20, 2014

    The JC decision is not about Amani or Peter. It’s about the implication of the JC decision on current and future Amherst students who may want to run for office but are at a disadvantage due to this ruling. The JC decision suggests that if I had the money, I could hire a publicity agency to design my posters so long as I only print 30 dollars worth of posters and place them in public places. Furthermore, the JC decision suggests that if I had the money, I could print 1800 posters and place them in “private” places (e.g., inside dorm rooms) and still be within the funding guidelines. The JC ruling is hence extremely problematic.
    I could care less about who the JC decision implicates in this election. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a candidate for President, VP, Treasurer, JC or Secretary. At the end of the day, if anyone violated the common interpretation of the election rules and/or the student honor code, we all should be concerned.

    • Jamie Sandel
      April 22, 2014

      I wish there were a way to separate the election result from the final resolution of this policy. It seems to me that the current conflation of creating better constitutional language for socioeconomic equality with overturning the runoff results and disqualifying Ahmed is dividing student government in a way that is not directly related to the issue of socioeconomic (because of the added variable of the election.) William Herman’s “no” vote in the recent senate meeting is a great example of this; he believes in the re-vamping of campaign policy, but voted to keep the JC resolution because of the conclusions it makes about the election.

  4. Anonymous
    April 20, 2014

    While I personally supported the opposing candidate in this election, I can’t bring myself to agree with the arguments presented in this article. Arguing that posters, which only had potential to be campaign materials, yet were never used as such and never entered the public sphere, be counted as campaign materials, places unfair limits on any candidate running for a position regulated by the AAS. What if a candidate wanted to wallpaper their room at home with pictures of themselves? That may seem bizarre but the freedom to do so should still be protected.

    What seems to be the real issue here is whether these posters ever did enter the public sphere, which the author insinuates, yet does not outright state. That is in my opinion a legitimate issue, but since that does not seem to have been proven to be the case, the argument being used in the absence of such proof, that the posters still count even if they were never used, seems both desperate and unfair.

    A fairer way to deal with future situations of this kind, I’d argue, is to establish a set amount of funds to be used for campaign expenditures, to be provided by the senate to all candidates, and not to be supplemented by personal funds. That would level the playing field for low income students without infringing on the rights of candidates for personal expenditures.

    • Jamie Sandel
      April 22, 2014

      The question of whether the posters were ever public is one of the ambiguities in the argument that’s really muddying things up. I think it stems from Chloe McKenzie’s second reason for dissenting – that posters could be put up then replaced with others – which I actually think violates the standing definition of campaign expenditures anyway, since those posters would ALL have been public at one point, rendering her sentiment valid but her reasoning incorrect (https://www.amherst.edu/campuslife/aas/announcements/jc-ruling-on-april-15-elections-complaint).
      The bottom line seems to be, though, that if we can’t rely on the honor code (which seems to be the general assumption at this point) we shouldn’t allow any sort of production of excess materials, even if they were tossed in the trash the moment they came off the printer. The voucher strategy addresses this conclusion. In the present situation t’s a kind of a clumsy conclusion, however, and does punish Amani for something that seems to me to be a harmless misstep (if the 50 posters did in fact never see public posting and were thrown out for stylistic reasons.)

  5. Liya Rechtman
    April 20, 2014

    Elaine, I realize that you were clear in writing this from one position and not as a full explanation of the whole proceedings, but I do wish you had checked your facts with other members of the JC, namely the chair the members of the majority decision. There are facts in here that are simply incorrect.

    1) No dissenting opinion has ever been included in an all-school email before, in large part because no one on either side of a JC decision (majority or minority of any vote) has ever written a decision before. To even include it on the AAS website sets a new precedent.

    2) I was not the one who proposed that Amani be called back, I was simply the one who had her (and Peter, Ellie, and Juan Gabriel’s phone numbers). At the time everyone seemed in favor of it and no one objected.

    3) I did not assert that “the receipts from OAS were unnecessary anyway, as the candidates were held accountable through an honor system.” I said that we did not have access to the OAS receipts because of the federal privacy law that protected students.

    Those are just facts on the ground, not my opinion about the case. You could have learned all of those pieces of information from speaking to the chair or any of the three other members who you did not speak to (myself, Allan or Birk). You could have also found #1 by speaking to other JC members (Tomi Williams ’16, Jonathan Appel ’16, or Marie Lampert ’15 to name a few currently serving).

  6. Pingback: Inside the JC Majority | AC VOICE

  7. Sam Rosenblum
    April 20, 2014

    Liya brings up a very good idea in her article, suggesting that all campaign finance be allocated to candidates by the AAS. Thanks to the large amount of funds the AAS has, such an idea would minimally affect their total expenditures. The benefit of doing this which I see is that the candidates will have to spend none of their personal money on their campaigns. Furthermore, doing this will hold campaigns accountable to funding limits, because such funds, I would assume, could be appropriated specifically to the OAS for campaign purposes by the AAS.

  8. Lindon
    April 20, 2014

    As Amani’s campaign manager, I can clarify some of points that are challenged in this article and its comments:

    1) I personally made the decision for Amani to “scrap” the previous design. I was not aware that she had already submitted them to the OAS when I made this decision, but, after seeing the potential design through text message, I volunteered to be her campaign manager, creating designs that more accurately represented her platform and that would fit the aesthetic that I had envisioned for her.

    2) When Amani and I were tabulating the invoice to submit to the OAS, neither of us had the malicious intent to ‘hide’ the previous posters that had been printed. We simply submitted the materials that I had created for her campaign, the posters and the drawing materials we used, and–to use the rhetoric of the JC decision–were “visible” to the campus community. We submitted receipts for materials that we genuinely thought were parts of her campaign; the other unused posters did not even come to either of our minds when creating the invoice.

    3) I think that complainants of this presidential race have been equating time with money, and I find it a bit insulting to do so. I have gladly volunteered my design services to Amani’s campaign, and have appreciated the creative freedom that Amani has given me to pursue this. However, it’s hurtful and unreasonable to protest my creative expression in this campaign; I’m sure there are some individuals who do not believe that we were able to execute this campaign with the limited amount of money that is allotted toward AAS executive campaigns. I apologize if this comes off as arrogant, but I’m offended that there are individuals who find it unfair that we dedicated so much of our time and effort toward this campaign.

    I’ll be speaking more to my experiences tomorrow in the senate meeting at 8:30 PM in Pruyne.

  9. COME TO MEETING
    April 21, 2014

    If you are at all interested in this issue, concerned about the JC ruling and its potential implications–as you must be, if you’ve been reading the comments–COME TO THE SENATE MEETING 8:30 PM IN PRUYNE on MONDAY. This is the one senate meeting that’ll be worth your going to.

    It will be good to hear from both the dissenting parties, the majority, Lindon, and others.

    If you don’t have time, still read Liya Rechtman’s article, and the comments on the page, and you can get a good idea of the opposing viewpoints: the JC majority’s rationale, and why people disagree with it.

  10. "Wow I'm really glad I got that AAS JC email."- no one ever
    May 1, 2014

    I have a hard time believing that the extra fifteen dollars Amani spent on her posters made much of a difference. Do you really think that she won because people saw posters saying vote Amani for president? I guarantee you 95% of the student body didn’t even notice.

    Also, please stop sending us emails about the AAS committee hearings. I have not met one person that is genuinely interested in whatever these JC emails say about the horrific campaign funding scandal. If this article spent less time worrying about campaign funding malfeasance, and more time on the income inequality engendered by expensive data plan costs associated with reading the non-stop stream of AAS emails, this article would actually be worth reading.

    But really, is there a way to get off the AAS email list? Offer transparency to those who actually care (through a sign up sheet, e-vote, whatever), and leave the rest of us (and by the rest of us, I mean pretty much everyone except for the kids who are in the student government) alone.

    This email embodies everything that is wrong with this school.

    Keep up the good work AC Voice!

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