Wondering where your free Chick-fil-A is?
New amendments to this year's Student Government Association election packet stipulate that campaigns can spend no more than $12,500 with a total of $5,000 in cash. Previously, campaigns were allowed to spend $7,000 and could accrue unlimited non-monetary donations.
According to Dean of Students Jeff Cathey, some of last year's campaigns took advantage of non-monetary donations more than others.
Engage, the campaign headed by Christian Powers, spent an estimated $24,000. Of that total, $5,571.81 was out-of-pocket cash. Expenditures consisted of drinks, food, other handouts and website access provided by DreamHost. The remainder consisted of donations from local businesses, including free sandwich coupons from Penn Station Subs, sign materials from Wendy's and donuts from Krispy Kreme.
Spending $2,546.76 and receiving zero non-monetary donations, Jake Baker and Paige Atchley campaigned with minimal funds and found ways to actually make money.
"Campaigns usually spend the majority of their funds on T-shirts," Baker wrote in an e-mail. "These are generally handed out for free, but Paige and I actually sold our shirts and tank tops to students. They were both very high quality shirts and this cost made up most of our campaign value."
In Cathey's opinion, the frugal methods of Baker-Atchley, a campaign that started several months after other campaigns, demonstrate that students are focusing more on the campaign platforms and the ability of each candidate to represent the student body and less on the freebies they offer during election season.
Falling between two extremes, the Amplify campaign spent $2,117.69 and an estimated $6,000 total after donations are factored in. Lisa Dicker, finance manager for Amplify, said that while the campaign did receive some non-monetary donations, little focus was given to handouts.
"Our budget came almost entirely from donations from members of the campaign," Dicker said. "This really made us take every step in spending our money very seriously since 40-plus persons were invested – literally – in how that money was spent.
"Almost everything budget-related was decided by a campaign-wide vote."
Cathey said he hopes to continue reducing the budget for campaigns in future elections and to eventually eliminate non-monetary donations altogether.
"Baker-Atchley ended up winning the top two positions without going overboard on expenditures or giveaways," Cathey said. "That's part of why it was voted in by the senate to put a cap on donations – there was not a perception this year that it was taking anything away from the candidates' ability to get their voices out."
"It's to each his own," said John Keny, who briefly served as election commissioner until his sister, Kelsey, announced her candidacy. "When people set out to start a campaign, they decide on the vision early on. And you'll see that again this year, I'm sure. You'll see spending ranges from the bare minimum to the very maximum."
Kelsey Keny, junior in journalism and current presidential candidate running with Connor Dugash, said that while handouts on Pedestrian Walkway can be helpful conversation starters and useful tools for outreach, they won't be the focus of her campaign.
"Quite frankly, I don't think that a student government election is the place to go raise thousands of dollars when those dollars could be better spent somewhere else," Kelsey Keny said. "I want to put attention and thought into my campaign instead of the dollars in my pocket."
New budgetary limitations will force the election commission to more closely monitor the three Campaign Value Reports that must be submitted throughout the election season.
"It's going to be a little more work for the election commission, but it's definitely something we're willing to do to ensure that everyone is held accountable and follows the rules," John Keny said. "The biggest problems last year were making sure we get back and stay focused on the issues and that's always been the case.
"We want to keep focused on the issues not just for one week, but year-round."