This semester, the Center for Student Engagement (CSE) is implementing the Student Leadership Fund as a pilot program. This fund is aimed at eliminating financial barriers for students who want to run in elections for GUSA Senate, Academic Councils, Hall Councils, or other student offices that permit spending for campaigns.
“The idea behind it is to make leadership positions available to students of all different socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Reed Howard (SFS ’17), a deputy chief of staff of the GUSA Executive, who worked with the CSE to get the Student Leadership Fund started. “It costs so much to run a campaign at Georgetown, because some of these senate seats, you can spend 150 dollars on. And that’s just not feasible for a lot of students.”
According to Howard, the awards will be split into partial need and full need. A partial need award supports printing of flyers and other papers and candy costs for a campaign. Full need qualifies a candidate to receive the same support, plus up to $25 in reimbursable expenses for additional campaign supplies. The specific price-caps for print cards and candy are not specified in the description, and presumably vary depending on the spending cap for the given campaign.
GUSA can change the campaign spending limits and regulations, but it is the CSE that decides who is qualified for funding, and then provides it. Requests for funding are then processed by a CSE employee. “That form is only seen by administrators, so it’s not seen by other students,” said Erika Cohen-Derr, director of the Center for Student Engagement.
In the spring of 2015, an anonymous survey was circulated to gauge the interest and need for the fund, finding that 54 of 105 respondents felt it would be a financial burden to run. 28 respondents wrote that they would have requested assistance for the full amount of the spending limit had the fund been available.
Funding solutions for students seeking elected office have existed prior to the Student Leadership Fund, according to GUSA Election Commissioner Alden Fletcher (SFS ’17). “In the past years funding was more ad-hoc,” wrote Fletcher in an email to the Voice. “We directed individuals seeking financial assistance to the CSE, specifically Erika Cohen-Derr, which was really where the involvement of election commission it ended.”
According to Howard, this ad-hoc approach resulted in a delay in reimbursement for some senators last year. “For whatever reason, there was no money to be given out, and it took them the entire year to get those funds. And some just quit trying to get what they were promised.”
The Student Leadership Fund establishes a centralized process. Cohen-Derr said that she has “earmarked some money that was made as gifts to the Center for Student Engagement, and agreed to put some of that money into a pilot project.”
As it is a pilot program, the level of interest and participation in the Student Leadership Fund this year will decide the Fund’s future and the future of need-based campaign funding from the CSE. “Ultimately we have to see what the impacts are,” said Cohen-Derr.
If the Student Leadership Fund does become established permanently after this pilot, Cohen-Derr noted that the question of what role the campaign spending caps will play in the CSE’s allocation of future funds would arise.
“Once we have that data, we will want to work with the election commission to make sure that the caps on spending accurately reflect student needs and what students reasonably would expect to contribute. And that’s not just the election commission, its GUSA itself. The whole body,” said Cohen-Derr.
The Election Commission regulates campaign spending as is specified in the bylaws, which are written by GUSA. The bylaws currently in effect as of Feb. 8, 2015 limit campaign spending for the GUSA presidential campaign at $300. The spending cap for a senatorial campaign is $50, except for at-large Senate seats which are capped at $150 campaigns.
“The Student Leadership Fund is more connected to CSE than GUSA or the election commission,” wrote Fletcher. “It would have been inappropriate for a student to administer this sort of thing.”
According to Howard, whether or not the Student Leadership Fund continues past this pilot depends on the student interest and participation now.
“We’re calling this a pilot run so we can collect data on the number of students who request to use the fund. However, talking to the CSE, they are very much interested in permanently housing the cost of the fund if there’s significant student interest.” said Howard, when asked about the future of the Student Leadership Fund. “We think this is something valuable to keep around.”