A Change.org petition to bring back the financial cap on SU electoral campaigning has been gaining ground on social media following SU Results Night on Friday 11th March.
The petition, started by second year Geography student Ellen Salter, urges the Students’ Union to reinstate a financial cap with a £100 upper limit on electoral campaigns during next year’s elections. The petition currently has 445 signatures.
The financial cap for SU electoral campaigning that was in place last year was removed this year because candidate feedback given to the Elections Committee suggested that the £50 limit was “restrictive”, according to current SU Activities Officer, Rob Jennings.
Rob, Chair of the Elections Committee, stated that this year’s guidelines had “no enforced budget caps” but rather “recommended” a £50 budget for candidates’ campaigns.
Speaking to Impact, petition starter Ellen said that she had spoken to many candidates about their campaigns whilst on the campaign team for Lauren Heria – recently crowned SU Sports Officer for 2016-17 – and several candidates had expressed concerns about financial disparities.
“Many said that they had spent hours jeopardising their academic responsibilities to create their banners and t-shirts, whilst others simply paid for theirs”
“Many said that they had spent hours jeopardising their academic responsibilities to create their banners and t-shirts, whilst others simply paid for theirs. They said that they found this unfair, and the election disregarded their manifestos, and focused on material incentives for voters”, she said.
Explaining why she hopes that a financial cap would be reinstated for electoral campaigns, Ellen said: “I believe this would permit a fair and level playing field for the candidates. University brings together an eclectic range of students from a range of diverse backgrounds”.
She added: “Your socio-economic status should not define or influence your ability in an electoral campaign”.
However, Ellen recognised that “there will always be those who would be against a cap as they do not think they will be able to campaign effectively”.
Rob Jennings told Impact that these concerns were raised last year and were taken into account when the decision to remove the £50 cap was made.
“However, he stated that he had not “seen a lot of proof” that there had been overspending this year”
“It did not necessarily represent how much it costs to campaign”, he noted, and “often candidates came to the SU with concerns that they could not spend anymore and therefore could not continue their campaign as effectively”.
He added that the Elections Committee had agreed that receipts could be requested from candidates if evidence of “gross overspending” was visible. However, he stated that he had not “seen a lot of proof” that there had been overspending this year and that it was a “difficult thing to prove”.
When Impact asked how “gross overspending” was defined by the Committee, Rob recognised that this is something that next year’s team “may need to define more clearly”.
“I believe we should ask all candidates to release their expenses for the election”
Many students also took to the Change.org petition page to explain why they had signed the petition. One student proposed that all candidates release their expences for the elections and claimed that if an “expected correlation between the money spent and the votes won” was made clear, “surely the SU [would] have to take notice and impose regulations”.
Responding to this suggestion on behalf of the SU, Rob Jennings stated that this could be problematic because “whilst you could indicate a correlation, I don’t think you could prove a causal link – information could be seriously misinterpreted”.
He added that moving forward, the SU would plan to talk to candidates and work together to fix a limit based on what they feel is a “reasonable” amount to spend.
He informed Impact that the Elections Committee plans to hold a debrief meeting to discuss policies, the 2016 elections process, and recommendations for potential future strategies.
However, he emphasised that all changes made to the elections process this year were “based on feedback from last year” as part of a democratic process, rather than “the SU making these decisions ad hoc”.
Image: Luke Norman for Impact News