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

James Ransley



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.