The Student Government Association allocated approximately $1,500 from its budget last week to print and mail a promotional election mailer that included campaign letters for the Eric Fegan/James Pollitt and Andy Hixson/Jeff Iker tickets.
Vice President for Administrative Affairs Joe Myers, a member of the Election Committee, said the mailer includes a letter urging students to vote and instructing them how, a complete list of candidates, and letters from both Fegan and Hixson that explain their individual platforms of issues for the race.
The Spring 2004 Election Rules and Guidelines specify that, “The SGA office may not be used for campaign purposes. No materials may be displayed on SGA property or distributed within the office complex, nor may any SGA property be used in creating campaign materials.” (Article VI, Sect. B)
The mailer was sent from the SGA office to the university printer, according to Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs Trey Orndorff, who filed an appeal of the actions on April 6 with the SGA Judicial Council.
Orndorff said that SGA use of funds for campaign-related literature “can be construed as favoritism.”
“We can’t spend money for the Fegan-Pollitt team. We can’t spend money for the Hixson-Iker team,” Orndorff said. “It’s a violation of election rules which we passed.”
Orndorff is running independently for Vice President for Administrative Affairs.
“(What) we were authorizing also had the names of every single candidate on there, and not just the slates, or tickets,” said Election Committee chair Michael Vaughan. “We made sure that they weren’t slanderous and they weren’t unprofessional.”
Vaughan said that he authorized the mailing of the flyers and Myers authorized the funding, which came to approximately $700 for the printing costs of Fegan and Hixson’s letters.
Orndorff said that neither the Senate nor the Finance committee ever approved these funds to be allocated.
Myers said the main reason they gave the two slates the opportunity to include letters was because they are running for the top offices.
“I think if we’re gonna send out a letter, it makes sense to have something about who’s running for president,” Myers said.
Myers and Vaughan both said they do not consider the mailer to be a campaign initiative for the candidates, but simply an advertisement for the election.
“We used money to advertise the election, [and] we used it to highlight the top two candidates,” Vaughan said. “There’s a fine distinction between the word advertise and the word campaign.”
Vaughan said endorsing an individual candidate would be considered campaigning, but the mailer simply gives equal time and space to the top two slates running
“This is free advertising for their campaign,” Vaughan said “We’re not campaigning actively for them.”
Orndorff argues that the mailer is clearly a campaign initiative for Fegan and Hixson’s teams, and it puts many other students running in the election at a disadvantage.
“Any individual candidate or somebody who decides not to run on a slate or anybody who’s even a senator – they’re spending their money to publicize the other person, and they don’t get anything in return for that,” Orndorff said. “Basically, we’re just running over the individual because we have two big tickets who have some powerful positions.”
Myers and Vaughan said that Orndorff had already placed himself at a disadvantage by not joining a team or creating his own.
“Trey started out at a disadvantage by not being on a team,” Myers said. “I don’t think that there’s any intention of putting him at a disadvantage [through this mailer.]”
Myers said he had considered asking the candidates to reimburse SGA with $350, the cost of one page copied 14,000 times, but later decided it was “unfeasible.” He said that if one campaign decided not to pay, they would be sending out a mailer with just one letter, and it would appear as if SGA was endorsing a candidate.
Orndorff said he believes each individual student running for any position on SGA should have been given the opportunity to include a letter in the mailer.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, you should have equal time, equal space and equal chance,” Orndorff said.