In a campaign season that has seen its share of outside influence, including an endorsement from La La Land director and Princeton native Damien Chazelle, the campaign of Ryan Ozminkowski ’19 for Undergraduate Student Government president denied any violations of the Elections Handbook after a ‘Prince’ report on Dec. 7 about campaign domain buyouts and the recently established “Super PAQ” Liberty Meets All Opportunity (LMAO).
The ‘Prince’ requested campaign expenditure reports from each of the candidates, as well as proof of purchase in the form of photos or screenshots of receipts. Each of the candidates and the LMAO Super PAQ sent detailed responses regarding their spending, as well as that of third party candidates. According to USG Election Handbook rules, campaign expenditures from candidates and third parties are limited to a total of $50, and only half may be spent on printing costs.
In an email, USG presidential candidate Rachel Yee ’19 sent a spreadsheet of her campaign expenditures which showed a total of $33.86 for printing and “Candy Wonka Party Favs.” She wrote in the email that she will also be spending $5-8 on a Snapchat filter, while using the rest of her allowed money on Facebook ads.
USG presidential candidate Matt Miller ’19 also reported his expenditures to the ‘Prince,’ emailing a spreadsheet and attaching screenshot proof of his purchases. His expenditure report detailed a total of $36.90 that included both printing and the costs of his domain and website purchases. Miller added that he will spend the rest of his allotted money on printing.
“I’ve been militant about following the current rules as written,” Miller wrote. “Also, per [Section] 8.4 of the elections handbook I have had no third party spending on behalf of my campaign, which I also would need to report.”
Ozminkowski forwarded a ‘Prince’ request for campaign expenditures to Halem, his campaign manager. In a statement emailed to the ‘Prince,’ Ozminkowski’s campaign manager Zach Halem ’18 wrote that “the Ozminkowski campaign can unconditionally confirm that it has not violated the expenditure limit.” Halem added that the he and the campaign are “fully versed in the Elections Handbook.”
In a subsequent email to the 'Prince,' Halem evidenced that he spent $20.37 on Ozminkowski’s behalf for a domain name, a website domain connector through Wix.com, and paper promotions. Halem explained that these expenses were third party purchases. He wrote that Ozminkowski “did not personally have any expenditures during this election cycle.” According to the USG Election Handbook, third party expenditures are not reimbursed, unlike those of the candidate.
According to the handbook, purchases made by a third party on behalf of a candidate do count toward their total campaign expenditure limit of $50. The penalty points system says that for every $1 purchased in ads above the $50 limit, 10 penalty points are accrued, and 50 penalty points incurred could mean removal from the election. In other words, exceeding the limit by just $5 can serve as grounds for dismissal.
LMAO has endorsed presidential candidates Yee and Ozminkowski, and has bought Facebook ads for the two candidates. The Super PAQ excluded Miller from its endorsement.
As the ‘Prince’ previously reported, Yee said that she did not ask for the endorsement and that she is “focused on the issues.”
Halem also wrote in the email that “as an independent member of the student body,” he donated the domain names yeeforpresident.com and mattmillerforpresident.com to the Yee and Miller campaigns, respectively. Neither campaign recognizes the domains as in-kind donations.
As for the endorsement from the LMAO Super PAQ, Halem wrote that the Ozminkowski campaign was “surprised but honored” to receive it.
“The Ozminkowski campaign has since scrutinized the organization's written materials and sees no reason not to support its mission and $500 charity project,” wrote Halem. “In fact, we are confused why an organization trying to raise awareness for the student election and support philanthropic causes would be seen in a negative light. I’m beyond surprised that the Yee campaign has rejected the opportunity to aid a charity event.”
According to a report from Ben Sender ’18, founder of the LMAO Super PAQ, the group has spent a total of $4.92 for the Ozminkowski campaign and $3.86 for the Yee campaign on Facebook.com ads. Using metrics from an ad campaign for another student organization, this combined amount could have allowed targeted advertising to over 500 students.
Sender wrote that the LMAO website is only used to “inform the public about its operations and mission,” and that LMAO is trying to become “a key player in student elections around the country.” Its website, as of publication, states that the group supports “all student leaders who embody the ideals of liberty and opportunity.”
However, the group also pledges to give $500 to a charity based on responses from only Princeton net IDs. As Sender considers the website to be external to the University, Sender declined to disclose how much he spent on the website, adding that LMAO’s “organizational expenditures are not only separate from particular candidates but from Princeton altogether.” When pressed, Sender deferred comment to LMAO public relations.
LMAO sent an automatic reply email in response to further request about the cost of the website that read, “Thank you for your message. Due to the large volume of emails, please expect a response within 72 hours.” As of publication, the ‘Prince’ has yet to receive a response.
Through its website, LMAO is running a charity campaign in which the $500 donation will be made to a GiveWell charity chosen by voters, according to Sender. Ozminkowski’s Instagram account also invited students to The Princeton Charter Club’s “Charter Friday” on Dec. 8; the caption on this post stated, “Take part in a raffle, sponsored by the PAQ, with the winner donating $500 to the charity of their choice! #effectivealtruism.”
Sender is well-known for Effective Altruism Investments, his investment fund which manages around $100,000 that “seeks objectively good returns for objectively good causes,” according to its website.
“LMAO has nothing to do with EAI,” Sender noted.
“I regularly donate to GiveWell charities and am more than willing to pledge $500 to an effective cause,” Sender wrote in an email to the ‘Prince,’ when asked where the $500 comes from.
In addition, Halem, as a third party, purchased the domain names yeeforpresident.com and mattmillerforpresident.com, as the ‘Prince’ previously reported. He wrote that the domains respectively redirected to their campaign pages, but only after the two domains originally redirected to ozforpresident.com.
“I can validate that such donation has actively increased the views for Yee’s and Miller’s Facebook campaign materials,” Halem wrote. He explained that the ozforpresident.com was used just as “place holder” because it “never in fact went live while the other two domain names were redirecting to it.”
The two domains each cost $12.17, which, if counted toward the Ozminkowski campaign expenditures, may put the campaign over the $50 limit. Halem wrote in his email that because the placeholder Ozminkowski website was not live, “it does not qualify as a promotion of Ryan Ozminkowski for USG president.”
According to a source familiar with the duties of the chief elections manager, these expenditures could be considered by the chief elections manager as part of Ozminkowski’s campaign expenses.
Current USG President Myesha Jemison ’18 said that these decisions are left up to current Chief Elections Manager Laura Hausman ’20. Hausman oversees USG presidential elections and candidates’ compliance with the rules, such as campaign finance regulations, as spelled out in the Elections Handbook.
In addition, Jemison explained that a candidate can appeal a decision by the chief elections manager, just as Ozminkowski did when he appealed to run for USG president after missing the filing deadline.
Hausman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Sender did not disclose website costs for LMAO, and it is unclear whether these expenses would come under either of the two campaigns the group has endorsed. Jemison said that Hausman has not made a decision on this.
“At least from what I know from the Ozminkowski campaign, Sender’s PAQ support would be included as part of expenditures for the Oz campaign,” Jemison said. It is not apparent if this support includes only the Facebook ads LMAO purchased, or the expenses of LMAO itself as well.
Jemison said that because there is no proof that Yee acknowledged the group’s support or solicited the support, she is uncertain how that would be interpreted under USG elections rules.
Additionally, the two domain names that initially redirected to an inactive Ozminkowski website may be counted under the Ozminkowski campaign or under the two campaigns they benefit. If the expenses are counted toward the Yee and Miller campaigns, the expenses would put those campaigns over their budgets as well, since neither campaign has counted the domains Halem bought as part of their expenses.
At last Sunday’s USG meeting, Hausman was not present to health concerns. She told Vice President Dan Qian ’18 that USG parliamentarian Jonah Hyman ’20 could handle anything that she was unable to address in her absence.
Hyman explained his role as USG parliamentarian in an email to the ‘Prince.’
According to Hyman, his job “is to advise members of the USG Senate, as well as those who interact with the Senate, about USG’s rules and procedures.”
“Since Laura's job relies heavily on interpretations of the rules, she has asked me for advice during the elections cycle about the Elections and Referenda Handbooks, as well as other relevant rules,” wrote Hyman. “I have tried to give her my opinions based on my understanding of the rules, in order to help her make the most informed determinations.”
In the USG meeting, U-Councilor Samuel Vilchez Santiago ’19 said that discussion of the Honor Committee Referenda and USG presidential elections without the chief elections manager. was “unproductive.”
“The Chief Elections Manager is supposed to be the neutral arbiter of elections for Princeton undergraduates,” said Grant Golub ’17, who previously worked as chief elections manager.
Golub is also a former copy editor and reporter for the ‘Prince.’
“[The Chief Elections Manager is] there to uphold the fairness and integrity of the electoral process to ensure everyone runs a smooth campaign that follows USG Election Handbook guidelines,” Golub said. “If irregularities or allegations of campaign misconduct are reported, it is the obligation of the Chief Elections Manager to investigate these claims and rule on them promptly so that the process can continue.”
The chief elections manager is appointed by the USG president.
If there are concerns about elections improprieties, the elections manager can request expenditure receipts in advance. According to current rules, campaigns must submit all expenditure receipts at the end of the campaign period.