Spending Limits for University Student Government Candidates:

The Ninth Circuit just released a very interesting opinion on this subject (thanks to How Appealing for the pointer). The opening paragraph strikes me as a good model of how to provide an effective frame for a persuasive argument, a frame that will guide the reader's thinking as the rest of the work is read:

We are called upon to decide whether the University of Montana may impose a dollar limit on what a student may spend on his campaign for student office. The University's limit did not affect how the money could be spent; rather, it directly told a student how much he could spend to get elected. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 could not tell James Buckley how much of his money he could spend to be elected a United States Senator. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 51-54 (1976) (per curiam). Why, then, may a state university tell students how much they may spend to be elected to student office? Because, unlike the exercise of state-wide political self-determination at a national level at issue in Buckley, the student election at issue here occurred in a limited public forum, that is, a forum opened by the University to serve viewpoint neutral educational interests but closed to all save enrolled students who carried a minimum course load and maintained a minimum grade-point average. These educational interests outweigh the free speech interests of the students who campaigned within that limited public forum.

The court, I think, is quite right to conclude that because student government and student elections are university functions, they should be treated as limited fora, and that the test is therefore viewpoint-neutrality (clear here) plus reasonableness. Here's the court's reasonableness analysis, which also strikes me as persuasive:

The evidence before us clearly shows that the University views the spending limitation as vital to maintain the character of ASUM and its election process as an educational tool, rather than an ordinary political exercise....

We find that the spending limits reasonably serve this pedagogical aim. ASUM exists to teach students responsible leadership and behavior. Imposing limits on candidate spending requires student candidates to focus on desirable qualities such as the art of persuasion, public speaking, and answering questions face-to-face with one's potential constituents. Students are forced to campaign personally, wearing out their [shoe]-leather rather than wearing out a parent's -- or an activist organization's -- pocketbook. Our conclusion is supported by the declaration of Gale Price, former ASUM President:

Unlimited spending in ASUM elections also would change the nature of the election process as a learning experience. The spending limits mean that students have to figure out no-cost or low-cost ways of campaigning. They have to plan ahead to figure out their strategy, rather than just dumping a lot of money into advertising materials at the last minute. They have to make decisions about allocating their resources effectively. Without spending limits, the well-off students would not have to face these constraints or make these kinds of decisions in the course of running for ASUM.

In any case, if you're interested in the issue, read the whole First Amendment analysis -- it's quite accessible even to laypeople. (You can skip the standing and sovereign immunity sections, though, unless you're interested in those topics.)

If you like Garner's American Usage, then you probably know that "the preferred plural [of forum] is forums" even though "some writers, especially in political science and law, persist in using the pedantic fora".
6.1.2007 5:38pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Not only do I know that Garner prefers "forums," I usually prefer "forums." Nonetheless, Supreme Court usage here is quite mixed -- about 35% fora and 65% forums. Both are thus fully standard and idiomatic; from habit, I use "public fora," though as a matter of principle I do think that "forums" sounds plainer and therefore better.
6.1.2007 6:32pm
As a not-very-recent graduate of the University of Montana, I find this to be a most amusing situation. In MY day, no one would spend a dime of his own money to run for office in the student government. Those that sought office were generally thought of as dead losers who sought some small amount of power over what concerts should be scheduled as compensation for their otherwise lackluster lives. Garry South, are youlistening?
6.1.2007 6:56pm
Recovering Law Grad:
1) I'm not sure I agree with the university's conclusion that "more money = less efficient" and "less money = more efficient." In fact, efficiencies gains are usually born from competing actors who have different resource levels, with the low-resource actor looking for low-cost/high-yield innovations to overcome the other actor's spending. The U has ruled out the possibility of that happening by making sure everyone has, essentially, the same amount of money.

2) I also am not sure that "wearing out shoe leather" yields the best possible campaign (assuming, from what I read, that the U's definition of best possible would be "most informative" and "most issue-based" and less popularity contest). For instance, some state universities are so large that a strictly shoe leather campaign would certainly leave out the majority of students. Imagine if a campaign for POTUS decided to eschew both paid and free media for a person-to-person campaign. Obviously, it would be absurd. The Court seems to suggest that writing and circulating position papers - which would take a lot of cash on a large campus - isn't a legitimate pedagogical aim.

I think what the U seems to be afraid of is not "a lot of money" per se, but, rather, the potential for disparities. That's fine, I suppose. But, that's slightly different than what they've said.
6.1.2007 7:25pm
Truth Seeker:
This just seems like another leftist let's-bring-the-advantaged-down-a-notch policy.
6.1.2007 8:51pm
Dave N (mail):
Truth Seeker--that may be the first time anyone has ever accused Judge Carlos Bea of being a leftist.
6.1.2007 9:11pm
The Cabbage:
Second Important Difference:

Student Government doesn't actually do anything.
6.1.2007 10:06pm
Cripes. If anybody cares enough about student office to not only run but spend significant amount of moneys on it-- and take it all the way to a circuit court of appeal-- they're clearly unfit to have power of any kind. It's a good thing that student governments are totally ineffectual and pointless.
6.2.2007 4:13am
markm (mail):
3L: I certainly hope we're not seeing one of America's future leaders in action...
6.2.2007 7:50am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Moreover, the notion that the special context of electioneering justifies an abridgment of the right to speak out on disputed issues sets our First Amendment jurisprudence on its head. "[D]ebate on the qualifications of candidates" is "at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms," not at the edges. Eu, 489 U.S., at 222—223 (internal quotation marks omitted). "The role that elected officials play in our society makes it all the more imperative that they be allowed freely to express themselves on matters of current public importance." Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 395 (1962). "It is simply not the function of government to select which issues are worth discussing or debating in the course of a political campaign." Brown, 456 U.S., at 60 (internal quotation marks omitted). We have never allowed the government to prohibit candidates from communicating relevant information to voters during an election....the First Amendment does not permit it to achieve its goal by leaving the principle of elections in place while preventing candidates from discussing what the elections are about. "[T]he greater power to dispense with elections altogether does not include the lesser power to conduct elections under conditions of state-imposed voter ignorance. If the State chooses to tap the energy and the legitimizing power of the democratic process, it must accord the participants in that process … the First Amendment rights that attach to their roles." Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 349 (1991) (Marshall, J., dissenting); accord, Meyer v. Grant, MN GOP v White. I think the circuit erred in finding that elections are not a traditional public forum.
6.2.2007 3:31pm
Markin-- Relax. I have neither height, wealth, or family background to be successful in politics in any meaningful way. Even if I wanted to be The Glorious Leader, I couldn't get elected in the TV age.
6.2.2007 4:23pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
My favorite line from the opinion was:
The ubiquity with which political government is present to control facets of our lives is not—thank Heavens!—replicated by student government in students' lives.

Dave N: I think -- I hope -- Truth Seeker was referring to the policy, not the opinion. It was purportedly justified by the claim that the elections are supposed to in part have educational goals, but that sounds like sophistry. Since when has student government ever been about education?

While I share with some other commenters the disdain (and puzzled amusement) at someone who would spend large sums of money to win a student government election, note that we aren't really talking about large sums of money. The University capped spending at $100/election; the plaintiff wanted to (and in fact did) spend $200 (after previously spending $150 in another election).
6.3.2007 2:30am