This article is part of a series about campaign finance in student government elections.
After triumphing in this year’s ASUO election, Ducks Empowered had $2,034 in unspent campaign contributions. With a lack of ASUO regulations applying to election benefactions, any slate is free to use leftover donations as it sees fit — and personal use of the funds is not out of the question.
Although there is a total expenditure cap of $4,000 as of 2017, the lack of regulations about what slates must do with excess funds presents a scenario in which those running for student government could hypothetically profit from the elections process. Additionally, ASUO elections rules do not place restrictions on how much an individual can donate and even business and political organizations can contribute to student government elections. For example, the Democratic Party Precinct Committee donated $82 to I’m With UO in 2016.
In previous years, campaign contributions have added up to high amounts reaching up to $22,995 in 2016 by the slate One Oregon.
ASUO’s campaign finance rules are unusual compared to other public schools in the Pacific Northwest and across the country. At Oregon State University, no outside organizations are allowed to donate to student government races and there is a campaign spending limit of $1,000.
The University of Washington has an even stricter set of rules, limiting campaign spending in the office of the president to $270. Additionally, students advocating for or against ballot measures at UW can’t have more than $50 of campaign expenditures.
To be sure, Ducks Empowered is not planning on using the money for personal expenses. Ducks Empowered campaign manager Hibo Abtidon told the Emerald in an email that the money would be distributed among members of the campaign because the slate ran on fair student pay, adding that whatever money wasn’t given to campaign workers would go to the food insecurity budget.
“Since one of our goals was fair student pay we wanted to make sure that were properly compensating the people who were on our team,” Abtidon wrote. “We had a full team of students working behind the scenes with us doing finances, social media, t-shirt design, etc.”
So why aren’t students required to do anything with leftover campaign contributions?
Dakota Steele, ASUO Elections Board chair, wrote in an email to the Emerald that since candidates are not directly affiliated with student government when running for a position, ASUO Elections Board has no ability to tell them what to do with excess funds.
“When individuals campaign for donations, they’re doing it individually. They’re not doing it for an ASUO organization or a club on campus. They’re doing it for themselves and as an individual.”
Steele wrote that the situation is somewhat of a gray area and that the individual nature of the candidacy is the reason why ASUO rules do not apply.
“Since individual students are requesting funds outside of a ASUO organization, those individuals are not subject to ASUO rules nor does the ASUO Elections Board rules specify [sic] what to do with remaining campaign donations,” Steele wrote.
Students donated to their own slates as well, according to campaign contribution documents. Seven slate members (now elected officials), including current ASUO Vice President Montse Mendez, donated to the Ducks Empowered slate.
Donating to one’s own campaign is not uncommon — Ivan Chen donated $500 to the Ducks Together slate in 2018 and was elected as external vice president. Brian Sun, Ethan Shafer and Cynthia Aguilar-Arizmendi, who were all elected to legislative positions, also donated to their own campaigns.
The other slates competing in this year’s election also had surpluses but were smaller than what Ducks Empowered had left: Oregon Alliance had $128.85 left over and UO is Yours had $335 remaining.
Oregon Alliance received $2,500 from former-VP candidate Michael Kraan’s parents and, according to expenditure forms, the slate spent $2,500 on video production. In total, Oregon Alliance raised $2,945 and said they returned the leftover money to Kraan’s parents because they made the largest contributions to the slate.
Katie Quines, presidential candidate with UO is Yours, informed the Emerald in an email that $210 of the total $455 the slate received was a donation from her father in the form of t-shirts. Quines said that she planned to pay her father back for some of the shirt production cost.
Even if slates choose to return leftover money to major donors or distribute it among campaign workers, there’s still nothing stopping them from using that money for personal use.