Buried in the pages of the guild’s website is a interesting document that lists the rules of this -game – election. There are a lot of rules that limit what a candidate can spend money on (662) (2)(i) and limit the amount of printing that can done (280 A4 Pages/candidate s662(3)(a)) but there is absolutely nothing that limits the amount of money that a candidate or group can spend on a campaign. I confirmed this with Tony Goodman (the Guild’s Managing director and Guild reg guru) who noted that whilst there used to be a flat $20/candidate spending limit, at some point in the last 10 years the Guild’s regs were updated and this $$ limit was removed. Strange.

So, with no effective limit, how much is actually spent on these election campaigns? $100? $1000? Last year it was more like $7000. That’s the amount that Nevin (last year’s successful presidential candidate, STAR) personally contributed to his campaign. To me, a lowly writer, that seems like a ridiculously large amount. $7000 for the CHANCE to be the Guild’s President? That’s half the cost of a UWA degree. For comparison I also asked last year’s LAUNCH presidential candidate Wei Sng how much she spent on her campaign; about $8000 split equally between her and LAUNCH campaign manager Ben Martin.

Perhaps it is worth noting that the successful Presidential candidate receives a lot of perks – like a $39,000 salary, a free parking space at uni, unit credits for their degree, a substantial addition to their resume, and the opportunity to run a multi million dollar corporation (and make a positive difference to student’s lives?)

The presidential candidate isn’t the only one who contributes a substantial amount of money to their campaign. In both major parties the Office Bearing Candidates are asked to contribute to their party’s campaign – somewhere between $300-$500 from each candidate. This practice and amount was confirmed by sources in STAR and LAUNCH, however the 2017 campaign managers downplayed this contribution claiming that

“as long as I’ve been involved in STAR there has always been the position taken that we try and make the campaign as accessible to people as possible, and obviously not everyone can contribute much, some can’t even pay the deposit but I don’t believe that that should prohibit someone from getting involved!…If anyone wanted to contribute then I would thank them profusely for that contribution! If people aren’t able to though that’s perfectly fine, as I said I don’t want anyone feeling like they can’t get involved just because they can’t afford it!” (Megan Lee, 2017 campaign manager)

and that candidates

“can contribute whatever they want and if they are in a financial position to do so. We don’t do any affiliation fee or donations. It’s just out of the goodwill of anyone involved to ease the financial burden of the presidential candidate. We want anyone who wants to get involved to be involved without worrying about contributing financially” (Nevin)

and

“Most Office Bearer candidates made contributions but … it would be tough to quantify – contributions would be made in a range of different forms, not just through formal and measurable channels such as materials… we didn’t keep track of their contributions or payments made – any estimate would be extremely inaccurate” (Ben Martin).

This is not consistent with what our sources told us – the practice in STAR appears to be that during the campaign OB candidates are assigned specific events or material to organise, and are expected to pay for any associated costs.

Perhaps even more concerning is the practice of sourcing money (somewhere from $10- $50) from the Ordinary Guild Councillor Candidates. Our sources tell us that post-campaign, calls are made to candidates, explaining that the cost of running the campaign was big, and that the presidential candidate has expended a lot of money, and it would be GOOD if the candidate could help in some way….. Could any candidate that wants to even consider running in the next year’s campaign say no to that request? In LAUNCH the approach seems to be less formal with candidates encouraged to collectively contribute small sums of money during the campaign.

Why is this concerning? For the OB and OGC Candidates it appears to be effectively trading political positions (or the chance for them) for money. We’d like to know what the money is being spent on (the max printing limits for a group is 12600 pages = max $1260, and the candidate bond ($10/candidate, max $1700 in total) is paid back to candidates after the campaign – that leaves at least $5800 for other expenses). That the money is not formally recorded or reported is concerning. That the Guild election regs do not consider or regulate this aspect of the campaigns is even more concerning. It is also concerning that candidates from both sides seem unphased with the amounts being spent, and seem to be ignorant of the reality of the situation – a guild presidential candidate who could not afford to drop $7000 for a shot at the gig wouldn’t stand a chance. Contrast this with the Post Graduate Student Elections where there is a $0 spending limit. That system also seems to work. Ask Owen Myles (resident Angel).

Words by Ruth Thomas

Pelican would like to thank the Candidates mentioned for their transparency and prompt responses to the questions posed to them.

2017 Left Action Presidential candidate Nick Brown was also contacted but at the time of publication no reply had been received – since then we have received his response: for the 2017 campaign Left Action spent somewhere between $400-$500 in total, the average contribution was $25, and Nick personally contributed around that amount.