Campaign Complaints Heard
Nine days after polls closed for the spring 2006 elections for the Associated Students of UC Irvine, allegations that ASUCI misused student funds to promote three fee initiatives have delayed the release of elections results.
A complaint filed by Edwin Ohanian, a first-year biological sciences major, was heard by ASUCI’s Judicial Board in a grueling two-and-a-half-hour session last Thursday, during which tempers flared among students on both sides of the debate, and even for some Judicial Board members.
Holding the hearing in the first place was a controversial decision for Legislative Council members, who had voted unanimously on Tuesday to use judicial oversight to form a committee to consider the decision to hold the hearing.
Although some students have expressed disapproval of the content of allegedly neutral voter materials or of the lack of antireferenda campaigning to counteract the pro-referenda efforts, Ohanian said that the very idea of using funds to campaign for or against the referenda was a violation of ASUCI rules.
‘The Measure S initiative, the [Campus Activities to Revitalize Education] referendum and the Campus Events referendum are all in direct violation of the ASUCI Constitution and Elections Code,’ Ohanian said.
Article XVIII of the Elections Code reads, ‘In conformity with the laws of the State of California and the policies of UCI, campaign funding may not come from the University, its departments, or Associated Students funds. For the purposes of this Code, the term ‘donor’ means any individual (except an immediate family member) or organization who makes any monetary or non-monetary contributions to a candidate.’
Article VIII of the ASUCI Constitution reads, ‘All fee initiatives affecting the undergraduate students shall follow regular election procedures as prescribed in the Elections Code.’
Particularly problematic is the inclusion of the word ‘candidate’ in the Elections Code, which ASUCI members say only relates to people running for office, but which opponents say should apply to fee initiatives as well.
‘A campaign is not a candidate,’ said Ray Giang, ASUCI vice president of administrative affairs. ‘A candidate is a person.’
ASUCI cited a 1999 court case, Associated Students of UC Riverside v. Regents, which ruled that associated students groups can use student fees to lobby.
However, Ohanian said, even if ASUCI is legally allowed to use funds for lobbying, they have imposed voluntary restrictions that must be followed.
‘The thing is, the ASUCI constitution says they can’t do it, so they’re not allowed to do it,’ Ohanian said. ‘The bylaws give them the power to support a bill and the power to support a bill gives them the ability to lobby for it, based on that court case. The thing is they have their own constitution limiting their ability to do that.’
Ryan Sanders, speaking on behalf of the ASUCI Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Executive Vice Chancellor, defended ASUCI’s position.
‘To assume that ‘all candidates’ statements apply to all referenda, does that mean that the mandatory candidates meeting in the fall elections must apply to all representatives of the referenda?’ Sanders said. ‘To make the assumption that everything that applies to a candidate must apply to a fee initiative is a false and broad statement. … All three referenda campaigns consistently followed university policies. The SFAC is the structure through which the determination of whether or not fee policy is being followed is made. They made an issuance to the chancellor, to the EVC that in fact, all fee policy had been followed up to the preparation and development of these campaigns.’
Sanders said that the effort to influence the outcome of the election ‘absolutely was a campaign.’
‘[A campaign is] a concentrated effort to persuade students to make a selection in, in this instance, a student government election,’ Sanders said.
‘Even though they use the word ‘campaign’ in that clause, you believe that that does not apply to the campaign that you had?’ asked Chris Kilpatrick, an Associate Justice.
William King-Lewis, a humanities representative on the Legislative Council, said that because the clause forbidding ASUCI funding of campaigns occurred under the heading of ‘donations,’ it was not applicable to this situation, because ASUCI ran the campaign instead of donating to a candidate.
‘I’d like to speak to the issue of whether or not ASUCI was donating money to an election campaign,’ King-Lewis said. ‘We weren’t. ASUCI was lobbying on its behalf. Ryan Sanders earlier did say that Measure S was a campaign. It was a coordinated effort to lobby on behalf of a specific stance which ASUCI had taken.’
‘A lot of people are working very hard to go to this school, and we should be able to expect accountability for all of the money that’s being spent here,’ said Jeff Post, a third-year political science and history double major, and an opponent of the referenda campaigns. ‘Especially if these referenda do not pass, we’ve just wasted $16,000 of the students’ money.’
Zach Avallone, ASUCI executive vice president, said that ASUCI was required to equally fund ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns, and that they fulfilled their obligation.
‘When Legislative Council by a two-thirds vote first approved the referenda to put on the ballot, and then also said they were in support of those, that authorized ASUCI to spend funds for a ‘yes’ campaign,’ said Zach Avallone, ASUCI Executive Vice President. ‘Whenever we are spending money for something, we have to allow money to be available for people who might want to voice their opinions in opposition. … Nobody ever approached ASUCI to request those funds. As such, ASUCI was fully within its rights. … It’s not that if you campaign for ‘yes,’ you have to campaign for ‘no.’ Legally, the money has to be available. The funds you have available have to be viewpoint-neutral.’
Scott MacKenzie, a third-year neurobiology major, said that even if funds for opposition of the referenda were technically available, ASUCI ‘intimidated’ students into not requesting the money.
‘I’ve been approached by students wearing C.A.R.E. T-shirts,’ McKenzie said. ‘[They] called me a bad person because I didn’t care about disadvantaged students. … The fact that [students] did not request funding for an opposition perhaps might be a result of that intimidation. If they felt intimidated by the individuals who were in support of measures C.A.R.E. and iCE, then they would have been less likely to go to ASUCI, which was clearly in support, and request money from them.’
The Judicial Board ruling was not available by press time, but it is expected to be released early next week.