Paying to Play: Buying the ASUCI Presidency

Illustration by Erin Johnson

Illustration by Erin Johnson
The Cost of Competition

When considering running for an executive position in ASUCI, there are a few standard questions you need to ask yourself: Do I have the experience? Do I have the time? And can I do the job? Unfortunately, here at UC Irvine, another question candidates must ask themselves is, “Can I afford it?”

In order to be a competitive candidate for the executive board in this year’s ASUCI election, one could expect to spend anywhere from $500 to $3,000 on a campaign.

According to the candidates’ financial statements that are available on ASUCI’s Web site, Isaac Yerushalmi’s campaign for the presidency tipped the scales at $2,910. In a close second came Megan Braun at $2,842 and at third, Mark Crawford spent $1,988. The most modest spending came from Harish Venkitaramanan, who spent $958, and finally, Christopher Diaz at $75. Keep in mind these figures don’t include donations, which vary by candidate, but are generally around $200-300 for the most competitive candidates.

With this money, candidates funded everything from DJs on Ring Mall to full-page ads, campaign Web sites and thousands upon thousands of fliers.

Executive vice presidential candidate Anush Patel even offered up the chance to win free tickets to a Lakers playoff game for voting in the ASUCI elections. While a disclaimer of “Voting for Anush Patel does not increase or decrease your chances of winning” clears him of potential accusations of bribery, it’s obvious that attaching your campaign name to an expensive prize that not every candidate can afford is a form of wealth-based self-promotion.

Maybe you’re shocked, maybe you’re not surprised or maybe you’re wondering why any of this really matters. Essentially, this out-of-control spending encourages only those candidates with enough cash to back their credibility to have a shot at a position in the office. Does that sound fair to you?

While competition is important for the placement of the best candidate in office, we have to realize that we’re only students. These candidates are paying for their elections out of their own pockets, or their parents’ for that matter. That’s all good and fine if everyone is independently wealthy, but what happens when a qualified candidate just doesn’t have the money?

ASUCI members, advisors and the student body in general must take it upon themselves to push for the protection of these students and put an end to this outrageous spending.

The bottom line is that candidates need a spending cap and there’s absolutely no excuse for being able to offer the voting public prizes, even for voting in the election in general (without including it on their expenditure form, at that) since most candidates don’t have the option of attaching their names to big prize packages like playoff tickets.

It’s not just a question of what’s fair or unfair either. This practice of unlimited spending cheats even those candidates who can afford it out of the experience they should be getting from their campaign efforts; furthermore, it cheats the student population out of understanding campaign policies.

The most likely argument in opposition to a spending cap is that it might somehow infringe upon the candidates’ ability to promote themselves. Well, UCI students, the fact of the matter is that Associated Students candidates at other UC schools often make do with budgets of around $200.

Impossible, you say? Fear not, Irvine. By the time elections roll around, the majority of the student population at these schools is actually voting based upon policies rather than voting by association.

First off, they budget their money. Rather than spending without concern for a cap, they map out the most efficient way to use the money they’ve got. They form slates and work together, combining funds, ideas and effort for a stronger campaign and policies. They market those policies by visiting every classroom, club meeting and organization they can get to, starting weeks in advance of the election. They market their slate by waking up at 5 a.m. every morning and chalking the boards of every classroom on campus.

The only real slate ASUCI Elections saw was The Umbrella Council, encompassing seven candidates endorsed by the five organizations at the Cross-Cultural Center. Their shared funding plan came out to $266.34 and was one of the only truly efficient uses of funds seen in the entire campaign.

Budgeting, planning and marketing don’t cost anything but time and effort. We have a right to expect both, as they should be the main criteria for determining a candidate’s dedication to their office.

Anteaters don’t need candy, pink flyers and DJs to be coerced into voting. Instead, they need planned changes and platforms. It’s the job of candidates to make sure students know what they’re voting on and make sure that they care about what’s going on at UCI.

A spending cap would vastly improve the respectability of our ASUCI elections. Make the change now while you’ve got the chance. Provide candidates a fair shot at ASUCI and allow students the opportunity to weigh candidates based on their aptitude for office, rather than which type of candy bar they pass out on Ring Mall.

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