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Finances Factor Into Race for Office

Most of the $500 student body president candidates spend on campaigning goes toward posters and fliers.

While some candidates say major expenditures are an unavoidable aspect of any campaign, others fear the necessity of money might skew the results to favor wealthy candidates.

According to the Student Code, student body and Graduate and Professional Student Federation president candidates can spend $500 campaigning and an additional $250 if they reach a runoff.

Board of Elections Chairwoman Emily Margolis said the standards are usually pushed to the limit. "If you're a serious candidate, you're spending every penny you can," she said.

Student Congress Speaker Mark Townsend said candidates who want to run but can't raise the money can petition Congress for funds -- but that no one, to his knowledge, ever has done so.

He said students also can raise funds from student groups but have to report that to Congress in their financial statements. "They have to tell us what they bought and where they got it from," Townsend said.

Several former student government officer candidates said the $500 cost of running an effective campaign can be difficult to swallow. While some students get money from their parents, 1999-2000 GPSF President Lee Conner said his efforts to raise $500 led to some significant lifestyle changes. "I used money from my student loans, so it was eat a little less and drink a little less," he said.

Former Student Body President Nic Heinke said he worked a retail job the summer before his junior year and during Winter Break to save money. Heinke said planning a few months ahead is vital for most candidates, who must raise at least part of their campaign funds themselves. "Most folks at least entertain the idea the summer before their junior year," Heinke said.

Student Body President Jen Daum said she encountered unexpected costs during her campaign, beyond the signs and posters. "I was always having to buy food because I didn't have time to cook," Daum said.

Will McKinney, the second candidate in this year's runoff for student body president, said the $750 he paid out of pocket for his campaign was money well-spent, even thought he lost. "I would like to have won, but I don't have any regrets about running," he said. "I was really proud of the issues that I talked about."

McKinney said most of the money he spent went to printing costs for posters and handbills -- expenses Margolis said were among the most common.

Conner said the Internet can help candidates save money because students have access to free e-mail and free Web pages but added that online resources alone cannot win an election.

Conner said another hardship is that someone who works too much to save the money will then be too busy to campaign. "The nature of working for the money is not very compatible with having time to run," Conner said.

Heinke said that although the $500 limit might be difficult for some candidates to raise, some universities don't have spending limits and costs can reach into the thousands. "That range is good -- it's pretty low," he said.

The candidates agreed that the biggest obstacle to conquer was not the initial $500 -- it was the cost of living without a job for a full year.

Most say the stipend for student body presidents -- $2,400 -- proves to be miniscule. "If you get elected to SBP, you're going to be working 80 to 90 hours a week for nothing," Heinke said.

Office-holders also face many expenses while in office, including regular drives to Raleigh and high cell phone bills, Conner said.

"We haven't tended to have SBPs who are exactly rich, but we haven't had anyone who was really poor either as I recall," Conner said. "We've had people who were middle to upper-middle class."

That tendency could potentially affect those students' abilities to advocate for the lower-class students at UNC, Conner said. "It makes a more powerful story if you can talk about something you've actually been through," he said. "It is definitely nice if you can tell the personal story."

Conner said communication with the administrators and trustees about financial issues is one of the most important aspects of the job.

But he said it is impossible for the student body president to be personally affected by every issue.

Heinke said wealthy student body presidents still can look out for the interests of less affluent students. "I don't think it affects their ability to represent," he said. "The challenge is to remember that there are people out there working 50 or 60 hours a week to pay their tuition."

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Daum also said it is important to remember that both wealthy and less-affluent students vote in the elections. "People who are elected SBP are elected by the entire student body and are capable of representing the entire student body," she said.

Several candidates said these are problems that must be confronted by every elected representative, from a elected official on campus to the president of the United States.

"This really mirrors challenges that are faced in the national political campaign," Heinke said. "I think Chapel Hill has handled it very well -- I think it's a reasonable spending limit."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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