The Price of Votes

Recently, the Phillips Academy campus has been littered with advertisements and endorsements for the candidates running for school president. Among the advertisements, persists the traditional poster with a catchy slogan, but also things far more extravagant. Everywhere a student turns, pens, buttons, or signs on backpacks appear pleading for a vote. Indeed, the 2004 presidential election has raised a question about campaign finances. Is there a need for a limit? Should the candidates have to declare all expenses? Phillips Academy has a reputation of taking “youth from every quarter.” Under this light, is it fair to have an election that is based on expensive advertisements, thus leaving the students with less money at a disadvantage? Buttons, balloons, pens, pencils, candy, and websites are all expensive products. Undoubtedly, each of the previously mentioned items is a creative idea targeted at the students to solicit a vote in the elections. However, because these items are so expensive in mass bulk, a student who is unable to pay the same prices is at a disadvantage. The student body responds to these catchy, innovative items, making pens, pencils, balloons, and buttons effective campaign advertisements. Therefore, the tremendous amount of exposure the advancing candidates got was due, in part, to their many creative advertisements across the campus. Former presidential candidate, Peter Accomando ’05 based his campaign on student council-student body communication, off-campus programs, and Fluff in Commons. To help his campaign ideas, Accomando plastered countless fliers in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, George Washington Hall, and Commons. He also gave the students bucket-loads of bubble-gum and balloons. Accomando’s expenses, however, paled in comparison to some of the other candidates. Former Presidential candidate, Billy Doyle ’05 based his campaign on improved student life and better communication between students and the administration. Doyle’s claim to fame during the presidential elections was his distribution of balloons, sporting his face. Filled with helium and attached to strings, the balloons were moving advertisements for Doyle, but at a price of $150 according to Doyle on WPAA’s on-air presidential debate. Former candidate Bobby Spang ’05 started off with a very smart campaign idea involving no expense at all—the color orange. Spang littered the campus with orange posters, pictures of himself wearing an orange shirt, and pamphlets closed with orange stickers. After the orange left the students’ minds, however, Spang turned to candy. Before the last election, Spang put a bowl of assorted candy in every dorm on campus. Attached to the bowl was a poster endorsing his campaign. Current candidate Yusuke Uchiyama ’05 bases his campaign on the reformation of extracurricular activities, so students can take advantage of as many activities as possible. Uchiyama’s website is an innovative idea, allowing students continual and updated access to his campaign through the internet. Uchiyama also had pens made, and distributed them on every table in commons during breakfast before the elections. Candidate Daniel Adler ’05 is addressing the lengthy bookstore lines and late-night deliveries in his campaign. Adler’s advertisements have been spotted across campus, ranging from buttons, to pencils, to posters. When asked about campaign finance reform, Adler replied, “I’m going to sound like a total hypocrite saying this, but it’s a touchy subject and we need to draw a line. The question is how and where.” I agree with Adler that there needs to be a line drawn. The spending was out of hand during this campaign, leaving students with less money at a disadvantage. However, it will be hard to institute a method of tracking the spending of each candidate. On the debate hosted by WPAA on February 24, candidate Morissa Sobelson explained that campaign finance reform was necessary, and that each candidate should simply be given a piece of poster-board and markers to make advertisements. Although poster-board and markers seems a bit drastic, Sobelson seems to be traveling on the right track. I think it would be unfair to the candidates to limit their creativity with a white piece of paper and some magic markers. I do, however, feel that some limit should be placed on the spending. The limit should not be too low, because there should be some variation in the advertising methods the candidates use, and a small amount of money is needed to get an original idea off of the ground. A limit of $75-$100 will be considerably less than the candidates this year have spent, but will still be enough for the candidates to present original, creative campaign ideas. By placing a limit on the campaign finances, students will be forced to concentrate more on the issues the candidates present, and less on how “cool” their advertisements are.