Student Government’s Election Rules Commission (ERC) is threatening to expel Justin Bragan and running mate Jonathan Dawson from the student body presidential race, claiming they spent too much money on their campaign and didn’t report contributions.
The ERC said coupons on the back of campaign fliers Bragan and Dawson distributed count as campaign contributions, and that their use of and failure to report them should disqualify them from the race, according to a Feb. 7 e-mail from SG Supervisor of Elections Cassandra Hall to the Bragan-Dawson campaign.
Bragan and Dawson – who go before the SG Supreme Court today to argue against the decision – contest that the fliers don’t have any monetary value and shouldn’t count as contributions. They are also concerned about the fairness of the ERC.
Bragan said he doesn’t fully understand the ERC’s concerns or how he should respond to them.
“How do you appeal something so vague?” Bragan said. “I don’t know what I’m specifically arguing against.”
Nicholas Zateslo, their campaign manager, said he thought it was just a misunderstanding and e-mailed the ERC a brief statement explaining the situation.
“Florida coupons do not require a ‘cash value’ to be printed on the coupons. A coupon has ‘no cash value,'” Zateslo wrote.
The ERC read his statement at its 1:30 p.m. meeting Feb. 8.
The statement went on to explain that students receive no profit from keeping the flyer and that the value of the coupon is only as much as the cost to print it, which is included in Bragan’s and Dawson’s expense statement. Therefore, there was no misinterpretation of funds, Zateslo argued.
After the meeting, Hall told Zateslo that the ERC has decided to assess their ticket 10 points, meaning that they face expulsion from the race.
At approximately 7 p.m., Feb. 8, a student approached Bragan, concerned that the Bragan-Dawson campaign had been pointed.
Neither Bragan, Dawson nor Zateslo had told anyone outside of their campaign about the pointing, they said. Bragan received two phone calls that night about the ERC’s decision, which made him question the Commission’s integrity, he said, as point assessing is supposed to be confidential.
Bragan filed an appeal against the ERC’s decision Feb. 10.
In an e-mail, Bragan asked for a written opinion from the ERC regarding the grievance, the minutes of that meeting, and the original, unmodified grievance that was filed against them, he said.
Hall replied that the campaign misreported information on its budget.
“The ERC felt that since Pita Pit was not in any way on your campaign budget form, but was on your flier, that this represented a ‘misreporting of information on the campaign budget statement,'” she wrote.
This e-mail did not answer Bragan’s questions, he said.
Zateslo said he is frustrated with the situation.
“They can’t tell us the actual action we did to break the law,” Zateslo said. “It’s like being pulled over and the cop not being able to tell you how fast you were going or what the speed limit is.”
The campaign filed an appeal to the SG Supreme Court against the ERC’s decision, citing bias in the ERC and procedural error.
The ERC has not been able to provide the campaign with the minutes of its meeting, explaining to Bragan that the recording was corrupted and the notes were unavailable, the candidate said.
Hall said the ERC’s recorders kept dying and that was why they were unable to provide the candidates with a recording.
Notes were taken, but the ERC needs to approve their accuracy before they can become public record, she said. The ERC can only meet once a week because of scheduling conflicts and can only approve the minutes for a meeting during the following meeting, she said.
“We have to do what’s feasible for the ERC and everyone else,” she said.
Bragan and Dawson, however, said the ERC is acting suspiciously if it cannot provide notes.
“If the ERC cannot prove to be non-biased with any medium during the hearing, the ERC is subject to a question of integrity,” Zateslo said in an appeal request reviewed by the SG Supreme Court on Feb. 13.
SG statutes state that the ERC and other SG entities comply with Sunshine State Laws, which say “minutes of the meeting must be taken, archived, and available to the public.”
“There was a procedural error in the way the ERC handled the situation,” Zateslo wrote.
Pita Pit did not create the coupon, nor give them the means to make it, but provided them with the information to put on the coupon, he wrote in the appeal.
According to SG statutes, if something is donated to candidates, it must be filed under their campaign contribution form with its fair market value. Fair market value is the price a consumer would be charged for a good or service.
The coupons on the fliers are an incentive for a person to hold on to the flier and have no fair market value, Bragan said.
The Pita Pit coupon has no fair market value because Pita Pit does not consider the coupon to be of any monetary worth, according to the contract between Pita Pit and Bragan and Dawson.
When Bragan and Dawson go to trial today, they must prove procedural error by the ERC to win their case.
The ERC released a statement regarding this case that defended its position.
“The Election Rules Commission is trying to conduct a fair election for both candidates and students,” the Commission stated. “Part of this process is making sure that every ticket follows statutory procedure. There was a procedural rule that was broken by the Bragan-Dawson ticket, which caused them to reach the allotted 10 points. When a ticket reaches or surpasses this number (the candidates) are removed from the election. It is unfortunate, but the ERC hopes everyone involved will continue to actively make their voices heard.”
Dawson said that the ERC situation slowed them down in the beginning of the election, but that he and Bragan will continue campaigning.
“We have to keep focus on our goal,” he said.