(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.