This year’s Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) elections are the first to feature presidential campaign spending limits. The $2,000 spending limit was passed by the ASI Board of Directors Jan. 11 as part of the ASI Election Code.
This spending limit only applies to presidential candidates; there is no cap for ASI Board of Directors candidates.
Prior to this policy change, Cal Poly’s ASI was among the few at California State Universities (CSUs) to not have a mandatory presidential spending limit outlined in its election code. Not including Cal Poly, the average presidential campaign spending cap for CSUs with mandatory limits is about $540. Including Cal Poly, this average was raised to about $628.
Currently, Cal Poly’s spending limit of $2,000 is equivalent to about 10 cents spent per student. This is down from last year’s winner who spent approximately 17 cents per student.
Over the past four years, the winner of the ASI presidential election spent the most money on their campaign. Current ASI President and agricultural sciences senior Jana Colombini spent more than twice the amount her opponent, mechanical engineering senior Isaias Diaz, spent in last year’s election.
The candidate who spent the most money since 2013 was Jason Colombini, who served as the ASI President during the 2013-14 school year, at $4,177.
A spending limit on presidential campaigns has been universally supported by ASI presidential candidates. Riley Nilsen, ASI presidential candidate and agricultural sciences junior, stated that the new limit is one of the factors that enabled her to run.
“I personally have only spent $1,200 as of [April 19],” Nilsen said. “If I had to spend more than $2,000, [I] more than likely wouldn’t be able to run as I am dependent on student loans, scholarships and my job to pay for my expenses. … I have absolutely seen the difference in regards to the presence of elections on campus this year because of limited marketing, and I hope the amount of candidates all together will help us reach our traditional voter turnout.”
Other candidates advocate for decreasing the spending limit even further. Davis Negrete, ASI presidential candidate and biomedical engineering junior, proposes further lowering the cap to $200. This would tie Cal Poly with California State University, Monterey Bay for the lowest spending cap in the CSU system.
“The spending cap should be lower, ideally at about $200,” Negrete said. “Spending caps make elections more fair and personal; more about getting to know the candidates than seeing the signs they post, for example. I hope the current cap makes this election more fair than in years past.”
Before the spending cap was initially passed, ASI presidential candidate and political science junior Chase Dean and Gianna Ciaccio, College of Science and Mathematics director and statistics junior, motioned to further lower the proposed spending limit to $1,500.
In their argument, Ciaccio and Dean cited the lower limits at other CSUs as examples. However, this amendment did not pass due to worries that a cap at $1,500 would be too drastic of a decrease.
“I advocated for it to be even lower when the issue was brought to the Board of Directors,” Dean said. “I believe that by implementing a spending cap we open the door to more creative campaigns and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Archie Mitchell, ASI presidential candidate and business administration sophomore, told Mustang News that one of his policy goals would be to further reduce the spending cap.
“If elected I will work to make the spending cap significantly lower,” Mitchell said. “Having a spending cap of $2,000 suggests students should be spending that much, which is ridiculous. It also puts anyone without the means to fundraise $2,000 at a severe disadvantage, which is also ridiculous.”
However, ASI President Jana Colombini said during a Board of Directors meeting that a candidate’s network is far more important than their budget.
“Speaking from someone who spent her own money, it is the best campaign that wins, not the one who spends the most money,” Colombini said.
A number of CSUs do not have mandatory spending limits on their presidential races. According to Jon Slaughter, the director for California State University, Chico’s Associated Students programs, Cal State Chico has not had a spending limit on its campaigns in almost 15 years due to issues with the valuation of materials and enforcement.
California State University, Fullerton ASI Election Commissioner Justin Klyczek claims that the Cal State Fullerton ASI does not impose a spending limit due to the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court’s ruling declared that nonprofit corporations could not be prohibited from independently campaigning for a political candidate — indirectly contributing to a candidate’s campaign — under freedom of speech.
“We decided to consult with a lawyer about the issue given that spending money is considered speech,” Klyczek said. “The lawyer advised us from passing student government legislation that would restrict the amount of money candidates are allowed to spend on their campaigns because of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. A university in Oregon that one of my [advisers] used to work at had some [legal] l troubles on their hands when they attempted to limit campaign spending.”
Meanwhile, California State University, Long Beach’s ASI has a voluntary spending limit. In its bylaws, candidates are encouraged to pledge to not spend more than $750 on their campaigns.
Of the schools with mandatory spending caps, the one with the next highest limit is San Jose State at $1,000, while CSU Monterey Bay’s is the lowest at $200.