Senate votes against spending reform bill

Photo: SQUELCH! Senator Rachel Horning, left, and Independent Senator Waseem Salahi proposed an elections spending reform bill, which was recently rejected by the senate.
Breanna Alexander/Staff
SQUELCH! Senator Rachel Horning, left, and Independent Senator Waseem Salahi proposed an elections spending reform bill, which was recently rejected by the senate.

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When Independent Senator Waseem Salahi and SQUELCH! Senator Rachel Horning took the floor at the ASUC Senate meeting last Wednesday night, they knew their battle was a lost cause.

The two had co-authored a bill that sought to require more transparency from student political parties in ASUC elections, but by the time it finally made it to the senate for official consideration at the senate's last meeting of the semester, it was clear the bill would fail.

"We're not here to attack the party system - we're here to standardize the way elections work," Horning said at the meeting. "It's in everyone's best interest."

If passed, the bill would have placed a $500 limit on party spending and would also require parties to fund their campaigns through publicly available CalLink accounts - which are financed through the ASUC and normally only used for ASUC-sponsored student groups - in order to openly disclose where their funds come from. The bill was tabled three times by the senate's Standing Committee on Constitutional and Procedural Review prior to being voted down after finally coming before the entire senate.

The bill cites Federal Election Campaign laws that require public disclosure of campaign funds as precedence, though it states that such laws "need not be fully emulated, but rather serves as proof that this idea is historically grounded and therefore warrants thoughtful and objective analysis in its implementation in the ASUC."

When the bill was first introduced in early April, Salahi and Horning had high hopes that it would pass.

But the bill was met with continued skepticism throughout the process from both the Student Action and CalSERVE parties - the dominant student political forces in the senate.

"This bill ... is not going to fundamentally alter the way the elections process works," Salahi said. "But this would be the first check of many that need to be instituted to at least combat or inhibit the growth of the two-party system."

The topic of party spending in ASUC elections is not directly addressed in the ASUC Constitution and Bylaws, though individuals are limited to $200 for senate campaigns and $1,000 for executive campaigns. For Salahi and Horning, who are not a part of either major party, an unlimited amount of spending by parties creates inequity in the elections process.

But several senators were concerned about the exact definition of party spending.

The bill defined party spending as "any transaction of money made by a party, party signatory, or member of a party, for campaign materials that bear the party name and likeness, not including materials that explicitly support a senate or executive candidate."

Still, senators from both parties did not feel this definition was perfectly clear, with some saying that expenditures on items such as t-shirts, which are worn throughout the year and not necessarily entirely for campaign purposes, might not fit into this definition and might cost more than $500.

Senators and party officials also said the bill had too many loopholes.

Student Action Senator and committee member Michael Bloch, who had voiced concerns about the bill since it first entered committee, said he does not believe it is the role of the ASUC to force parties, which he said he views the same as any other student group, to "be a part of the ASUC."

"There were so many problems - it would be tough to come up with a bill that would pass," Bloch said. "They had all these high-minded goals, and I think the goals were great, but they couldn't come up with any realistic way to actually implement them."

Student Action Party Chair Shahriyar Bolandian said in an email that candidates for the party spend money on picket signs, literature for their campaigns and "other campaign materials."

"Student Action candidates do not pay to run for office," Bolandian said in the email. "Student Action is not a members only organization, it is a party that represents all students, and therefore, does not require or accept a membership fee."

According to CalSERVE Senator Kenny Gong, each CalSERVE candidate contributes $100 for "coalition-related expenses."

"Specifically, that includes general CalSERVE buttons, a subsidy of the CalSERVE t-shirts, and particularly, retreats," Gong said in an email. "The retreats are important for honing (candidates') political educations that are beyond the purview of election-specific work."

Though their concerns are left unaddressed for the time being, Salahi and Horning said they are hoping the bill will be reconsidered in the future, either by another senate class or through the referendum process.

"I think it's a very simple, concrete measure that most people would agree with," Salahi said. "There's a reason why candidates don't have unchecked spending, and it's because it deteriorates and undermines the whole democratic principle of the elections process. Party spending is just a parallel argument that you can make."

Madeleine Key of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

Clarification: The photo caption on a previous version of the article may have implied that Senator Waseem Salahi was on the left, when he is in fact on the right.


J.D. Morris is an assistant news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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