This year’s election for Student Government (KSSG) President sparked a debate over campaign spending rules and general HKS Elections Committee processes.
The Elections Committee bylaws state that candidates running for President of KSSG are not allowed to exceed a budget of $100 on campaign materials. As such, all candidates are required to submit financial disclosure forms and receipts at the end of the campaign period.
As requested, candidates submitted their forms and receipts before the well-attended Presidential Forum last Monday, Sept. 24, after which HKS students began to cast their votes.
The race was tight, with Rohit Malhotra, MPP ’13 earning 37 percent of the votes and Mariana Filgueira Filgueira, MPA ’13 following close behind with 32 percent. Given the absence of an absolute majority, the Elections Committee scheduled a run-off.
The Committee faced a dilemma, however, after Filgueira self-reported that her campaign had exceeded the designated budget by $11.87. After extensive discussion, members voted to allow Filgueira to remain in the race, but only if she forfeited the additional $50 typically allowed for a run-off campaign and removed all of her existing campaign materials from campus.
The Committee announced its decision to campaign participants on Wednesday morning. Commenting on the decision, Elections Committee Chair Danny Hatem, MPP ’13, said, “People need to take responsibility for their actions. The rule has to have consequences otherwise the rules don’t mean anything.” He continued, “We wish the infraction had not happened, but I think we addressed it fairly and even-handedly.”
However, some found the punishment too harsh.
“I understand I had to be penalized for breaking a rule, for example, by not being allowed to spend the $50 we had for the run-off,” Filgueira said. “But what was the purpose of not being allowed to use any flyers or posters that I had used before?”
On a vibrant Facebook discussion board, others objected to the decision, arguing that Filgueira only “overspent by sales tax.”
Under the election rules, Hatem was obligated to inform the HKS community of the situation and provide a 48-hour window for anyone to challenge the decision (which would allow Filgueira to remain in the race, though under new circumstances). He referenced the incident in a general e-mail announcing the runoff elections:
“In the interests of transparency, the Elections Committee also must report that in disclosing her spending for the election, Mariana admitted to slightly overspending her budget during the general election. Because of this infraction, but also her honesty in voluntary disclosure, we have decided that Mariana must forfeit the campaign materials she purchased for the general election (flyers and posters), and must also forgo the additional budget she would have been allowed for the run-off.”
The e-mail itself prompted further discussion and disagreement.
Hatem felt that including the incident description in a general e-mail was appropriate; he did not want to make an even bigger deal of the situation. Additionally, he felt that mentioning Filgueira’s honesty, as well as the fact that the overspending was “slight” was important and urged people to contact him with additional specific questions.
However, others argued that the email lacked context. “I think the mail was confusing, not appropriately worded…it didn’t clarify how much I had overspent –so many people thought I had overspent much more,” Filgueira said. Another student felt “some slight injustice had been done because of missteps taken.”
After 48 hours, there were no challenges to the decision and Filgueira removed her campaign materials before run-off voting began. Malhotra volunteered to remove his campaign materials as well and also forfeited his allowed run-off budget, a decision he felt was “the right thing to do.”
Run-off elections took place on Friday, Sept. 28 and Malhotra was elected. Filgueira publicly congratulated him, saying “with your hard work, leadership, and passion for HKS, you will make a difference this year.”
She did urge, however, that everyone learn from the experience and perhaps a review of the Elections Committee bylaws would be helpful. “What matters is that dialogue…is always open and that we learn from each experience,” she said.