A-Team and Returning Officer clash over election-spending clause

by / 24/09/07

The A-Team and Returning Officer Andrea Reeves have reached a point of disagreement over the rules around election-spending, with Reeve interpreting the VUWSA Constitution to mean the A-Team can only spend a collective $100 on their campaign.

Schedule 2, Clause 53(a) of the VUWSA Constitution states that, “No candidate shall spend or cause to be spent more than $100 on the provision of personal election publicity.”

The A-Team are running fourteen candidates, but are still only allowed to spend a hundred dollars because they are running under a single ticket, according to Reeves.

The A-Team disagree with Reeves’ interpretation, and believe they can spend a collective $1400; $100 per candidate. The A-Team have sought legal advice from the Deputy Dean of Law, Gordon Stewart, on the matter. “The way Gordon interpreted it was [there is] no limit on joint expenditure. However, we are quite happy to concede the middle ground and … we’ll just add everyone’s $100 in total… We are going to be lower than the combined total anyway,” says A-Team Council Rep candidate Jordan Williams.

Section 53(b) of the Constitution states, “All candidates shall provide the returning officer with receipts for all their expenditure on personal or joint election publicity.”

Stewart and the A-Team believe the mention of ‘joint’ publicity in cl 53(b) but not in cl 53(a) means the $100 does not apply to joint spending – and that there is, in fact, no limit on joint spending.

Lawyer and former VUWSA Treasurer Graeme Edgeler agrees there is no Constitutional breach.

“The limit of $100 is for personal campaigning. If a grouping such as the A-Team releases advertising designed to seek votes for the group as a whole then a proportionate cost should be attributed to each member. Each member of the A-Team should include one-fourteenth of the cost of A-Team advertising in their $100 limit,” says Edgeler.

“You can’t say that $1400 of posters promoting 14 different people means each of them has spent $1400 – they’ve spent $1400 between them – not $19,000 – and each member of that group has benefited by $100 from their joint campaign, which is perfectly acceptable.”

“There have been a number of joint campaigns for VUWSA in recent years, and this is the way it has always been dealt with in the past,” says Edgeler.

Reeves refused to comment, but did say that it was not her role to express an interpretation of the relevant clauses of the constitution. “I am here solely to facilitate the election process,” says Reeves.

“I … think it’s pretty appalling that she [Reeves] won’t publicly comment on this matter – the Returning Officer should be worried about running the election as well as possible, not worrying if someone might use something she’s sa[id] as returning officer against her,” says Edgeler.

Election Committee member Karen Price says anyone dissatisfied with the conduct of the election or of any candidate or person can make a formal complaint to the Committee Secretary.

“This can only happen after the declaration of the results,” says Price.

Clause 51(c) of the VUWSA Constitution states that, “Immediately on receipt of such demand the Secretary shall forward the complaint to the election committee which shall appoint three impartial persons to act as arbitrators who shall be given full powers for investigation and inquiry into the cause of the complaint”.

Williams says he is “pretty confident” the A-Team is in the right, given Stewart’s opinion.

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  1. Henry Clayton says:

    How can the Returning Officer be right? What is her argument? Further, how can she say that it is not her role to express an interpretation of the relevant clauses of the constitution but then take this strange stand?
    The A-Team cannot spend more than $100 promoting any one candidiate and cannot spend more than $1400 on total campaigning.

  2. blogette says:

    Well that’s embarrasaing isn’t it.

  3. Sancho says:

    Henry, you’re MY dream!

  4. peteremcc says:

    This was a ‘clash’ at the end of last week and was all resolved by Monday – that’s the problem with a weekly publication.

    The constitution says that $100 can be spent by each candidate for ‘personal’ campaigning. Meaning $1400 combined.
    However, anything that didn’t specifically promote a candidate – eg advertised only the A-Team would not come under either and there would be NO limit.

  5. The Constitution is very vague around areas of joint campaigning. The relevant sections are sections 53-55 on the Conduct of electors and applicants. Section 53(b) does allow joint campaigning. The $100 limit can be interpreted three ways:

    1) A joint ticket is only allowed to spend $100 on publicity on al its candidates. This is how Andrea reeves interprets the constitution. I disagre on the grounds that the constitution says the candidate has to spend the money (or cause someone to spend it) in order to count into the $100 limit. Also section 53(b) makes provision for joint campaigning, only including the money the candidate spent on joint election expenses in his/her election expenses return.
    2) The $100 limit enables all candidates to pool their funds and spend $1400 for four teen candidates. this has been the traditional interpretation, and from the article above the one supported by Graeme Edgeler. The arguement is sumarised by Edgeler above, and argues that all joint campaigning is shared around jointly amongst the 14 candidates. this would get problematic if the A-Team spent $1000 on “Vote Lukas Schroeter for president” posters, containing the A-Team logo, and argued that the cost should be spread around 14 candidates.
    3) My own interpretation. This could be a controversial one, and complicated one. it holds that a candidate can contribute $100 to a joint campaign, as can each other candidate on the ticket, but it would be breaking the election spending rules if Lukas Schroeter donated $500 for campaigning for the A-Team, and all the other candidates $900 combined, and the A-Team spent $1400. However, if each of the A-Team candidates contributed $100, they could spend $1400 legally. The reasons why I support this interpretation over interpretation 2 above are firstly there is no-where in the VUWSA constitution saying anything about pooling campaign funds. secondly, section 53(b) makes it clear that each candidate has to provide his own election expenses return. It make no provision for joint election expenses returns. Thus the A-Team wil need to submit 14 election expenses returns, one for each candidate. It is implied that whatever is included in section 53(b) counts as part of the $100 limit in section 53(a). Joint election publicity is explicitly included in section 53(b) and thus a $500 gift to a comon campaign fund would need to be included in the election expenses return, which would be included in the $100 limit contained in section 53(a).
    In any case, the election spending rules are ambiguos and vague, and need to be tidied up.

  6. peteremcc says:

    Just to make things clear… the constitution is a piece of crap.

    The invitation to vote that was emailed out by the RO is technically against the constitution. As is any mass email sent by (or to) any member of VUWSA during polling time – the email doesn’t even need to be remotely related to the election.

  7. Amanda Hill says:

    Piece of crap or not, it is the document governing elections. The RO is employed by the Election Committee and is answerable to them, not to candidates. Pooling funding gives a group of students, only one of whom may have significant funding, the opportunity to breach the rules. As Nicholas has pointed out, the important things is that each candidate has to provide receipts for expenses up to $100 – and no more than that. That can’t be done if another person has provided the funding. It’s like the Brethren giving money to the Nats and the Nats saying it didn’t count because it rained down from God..

  8. MC says:

    What absolute rubbish Amanda and you know it.

    Why should a group of students with likeminded aims and goals be disadvantaged by only being able to spend $100 between themselves? $100 has been deemed to be the limit which people are able to effectively promote themselves and their policies in an individual capacity. How then would this same amount be as effective across larger numbers?

    There are significant issues with the constitution in this respect. It doesn’t provide for a limit for promoting a “ticket” and people have to rely on the ticket themselves being honest and ethical by not breaching the combined amount. The current ticket AFAIK have been very open and voluntarily sticking to the combined sum of each candidate’s $100. They don’t have to but they are being ethical about it. This needs to be tidied up with the constitution (and you had a good opportunity to do so as President).

    It is not reasonable however to liken the current ticket with the EB label.

    It would be more reasonable, if you must throw in the EB term, to liken it to the counter campaign. The EB tried to denigrate Labour and the Greens from under a veil of secrecy. Can you see the parallels with the campaign against the current ticket? Know one it seems knows who has been printing and distributing the rather personal and disgusting posters. However there have been rumours as to where these have been printed which, if true, would make hypocrites of those always so ready and willing to bash the campaign tactics of the EB.

  9. The issue of wether joint publicity counts with the $100 limit is an interesting one. The constitution does prohibit spending more than $100 on personal election publicity, but contains nothing defining what is and what isn’t personal election publicity. It can be argued that because several candidates are clearly conected to the A-Team, that a “vote A-Team” leaflet or chalk would be publicity for them, and the clear prupose of the rules is to this. Ultimately it depends on what you (and the panel hearing any electoral petition) decide to iclude as “personal election publicity”. It can also be argued that negative campaigning (such as a “evict the muppets” slogan) doesn’t count as persoanl election publicity. The rules around these areas are vague and need to be tidied up.

    What is clear is that excluding negative advertising and joint publicity breeches the dpirit and intent, if not the letter of the constitution. The constitution should be ammended to make absolutely clear that any material which encourages people to vote for a candidate, or not vote for a different candidate, counts as electioneering, and towards the $100 limit.

  10. Clint Heine says:

    Well ya know, whats what happens when VUWSA runs the elections! They decide the rules and put people into positions to make rules that suit them.

    Reeves sounds like she has no idea of how the rules are worded. Little wonder VUWSA got her to be the returning officer.

  11. Mike says:

    Clint you sad git, how is the UK? It’s a pity no one wants your brother or the rest of the A-Team to run VUWSA, no matter what the rules were. As soon as the students saw your bro and the rest of the A-Team, they knew not to vote for these fools.

  12. Returning Officer says:

    “The RO is employed by the Election Committee and is answerable to them, not to candidates”. – Amanda Hill
    This is a great point.
    The whole story written by Salient was spun so much out of proportion it’s not funny. It is not up to me to interpret the constitution. I have been employed to do a job and I get direction for a Lawyer and the Election Committee. The election committee have full power to decide how the election is run and get me to implement it.
    I think it’s child-like to form an option about something you know nothing about, and only the Election committee, the Lawyer and spokespeople from the A-Team understand the facts of this situation.

  13. Clint Heine says:

    Nice one Mike, I suspect people like you thrive in the environment created by the current bunch at VUWSA. That alone speaks volumes about the kind of person you are. :)