Monday night, the Student Government Association Elections Committee gathered again to hear three complaints made against the Voice and Bridge executive tickets by junior Joseph Benken on behalf of the Belong ticket.
Following three hours of hearings, the committee met in a closed door session where the Bridge campaign was unanimously found in violation of the SGA Elections Code and sanctioned. Both complaints filed against the Voice ticket were deemed not to be violations and the ticket received no formal reprimand.
Bridge barred from using bridge prop
The Belong executive ticket filed a complaint Sunday evening against the Bridge executive ticket citing missing expenditures on the Bridge financial disclosure forms.
A wooden bridge prop donated to the campaign by presidential candidate Jeremiah de Sesto’s father drew the most scrutiny during the hearing. Candidate de Sesto and the Bridge campaign’s legal counsel argued the prop had no value because it was donated and de Sesto’s father’s modifications to the bridge also did not constitute added value.
Benken, chief counsel for the Belong campaign, countered that the wood, nails, paint and labor used to assemble and augment the bridge for campaign usage had inherent value. Benken also referenced a clause on the financial disclosure forms which states that despite the campaign not spending their own funds on the bridge prop, the Bridge campaign was still duty-bound to report the prop’s market value on the financial disclosure form.
In his closing statement, sophomore Connor Lamb, chief legal counsel for the Bridge ticket, urged the Elections Committee to consider what the Belong ticket’s complaint “is really about.” Lamb stated that even if the committee found the substance of the complaint to be a violation of the Elections Code, to view the violation as “incredibly minor” and respond accordingly.
The Elections Committee unanimously found the Bridge campaign to be in “direct and overt violation of the financial rules outlined in the Code” by not disclosing the fair market value of the bridge, the official sanction notice said. The committee found the bridge to have clear monetary value and thus should have been listed on the financial disclosure form.
“Ultimately, the Elections Committee had zero doubt that the Code had been violated as it pertains to this bridge,” the official sanction notice said.
As a remedy, the Bridge campaign may not use the prop at tabling until the end of the general election on Wednesday.
Voice ticket comes under fire
Prior to the allegations discussed Monday evening, the Voice ticket had yet to have any complaints filed against them. Monday evening, however, they fielded arguments regarding two separate complaints both from the Belong ticket.
According to the first complaint filed Sunday afternoon, Benken, claimed the Voice campaign violated the SGA Elections Code by having an unregistered staff member as part of a campaign group message who then promoted the ticket on social media.
Chief counsel for the Voice ticket, junior Christian Carlow, characterized the complaint as “frivolous.” The remainder of the hearing, both sides went back and forth regarding the timeline and intention behind adding and removing members from various group messages and whether presence in a group message paired with personal social media promotion delineated staff-level support of an SGA ticket.
The Elections Committee unanimously found the Voice ticket not in violation of section 706.1a of the Elections Code. They determined that membership in an unofficial group message paired with social media support did not constitute being a staff member of the campaign. Thus, the section of the code that requires accurate staff membership rosters was not violated by the omission of the student. The committee pointed to insufficient evidence brought by the complainant.
The second allegation against the Voice campaign, filed just before 2 a.m. on Monday, argued the campaign had not kept up-to-date financial records as required by the Elections Code.
The complaint specifically cited “Voice” branded masks worn by members of the ticket as well as the extended staff in various photos brought as evidence before the committee. During the presentation of evidence and questioning of witnesses, Voice staff member and junior Sally Whitley revealed that her grandmother, “Nana” Whitley, had donated the masks to the campaign free of charge. An audio testimonial from “Nana” Whitley was shared by attorney general Jack Henry Decker who later called the recording, “the most heartwarming thing we’ve ever had in an Elections Committee hearing.”
Beyond the audio recording, the two campaigns discussed the timeline of deadlines for financial disclosure forms as well as the reception of the debated masks. The voice campaign argued that since they did not receive the masks ahead of the second financial disclosure form deadline, they could not accurately assess the market value of the donated masks before the form was due.
In a 3-2 decision, the Elections Committee decided that the Voice campaign was within their rights to wait to disclose the masks until the third financial disclosure form deadline on Thursday. Although siding with Voice, the committee encouraged the campaign to proceed with caution “moving forward about listing expenses and noted that this was likely an avoidable situation.”
In addition to the three complaints the Belong campaign brought Monday evening, the campaign also requested an appeal to the sanction received Saturday night. The Supreme Court of the University of Georgia dismissed the appeal.