As the Wolverines closed out their home season with a win over Wisconsin on Saturday, fans at the Big House were subject to a horrifying sight. Along with the usual ads promoting car dealerships and strip clubs, one plane was carrying a banner urging fans (presumably the student ones) to vote for Blue Party candidate Mike Mascetti. While student government elections have never been known for their humility, this campaign stunt crosses the boundaries of good taste. It is time for meaningful campaign finance reform for student government elections here at the University.
The candidates in each succeeding election seem to try to outdo the ones from years past. Running for office is no longer a cheap proposition if a candidate wants to be a contender. Candidates must pay dues to their parties, print up an ungodly amount of flyers and litter campus sidewalks with substance-free chalkings. Costs to candidates can run in the hundreds of dollars, and the campaigns for president in the spring can stretch into the thousands.
The two main student government chambers, the Michigan Student Assembly and the LSA Student Government, need to curtail this kind of excess. They need to reduce both the number of buildings flyers can be posted in, the number of days candidates can post campaign advertisements and the number of advertisements itself. And above all, both chambers need to explicitly ban stunts like Saturday’s banner incident.
Similarly, reforms need to be installed to limit the amount of money that candidates and parties can spend. The high costs of running for office serve as a barrier to students who can either not afford to run competitive races or are not recruited by one of the parties, whose ads promoting party identification and candidates at the top of the ticket can assist their members lacking the necessary financial wherewithal. True democracy should mean participation by everyone – not just the wealthy or well connected. Installing limits on expenditures will help level the playing field for all.
It is also important that there be transparency in the student government election process. Candidates for office at nearly all levels must disclose where they receive their money from and how they spend it; student government races should be no exception. The student body has a right to know where their elected officials (and the parties with which they associate themselves) are getting their money from, whether it be from the candidates themselves, mommy’s visa card or a wealthy sugar daddy. Similarly, candidates need to put on record where they spend their money. Candidates will send a strong message about their accountability by disclosing how much they have spent money on copies, chalk, athletic field marker or plane ads; such public disclosure may help discourage the excesses we have seen in the past.