Not long after students arrived on campus this semester, posters supporting various political candidates began to appear.
The ongoing primary season prompted the Division of Student Affairs to remind students of a longstanding policy regarding political posters and events.
In an email to the student body on February 5, Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze wrote that, “established student groups … may use Bowdoin’s resources for partisan political purposes,” such as inviting candidates to hold rallies on campus or hanging posters. According to Hintze, the emails were little more than a reminder of existing College policy, the Political Activity Policy.
“We’ve long had this policy,” said Hintze. “This year we just put some more examples to better help direct students.”
Additionally, College House residents received an email from Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Residential and Student Life Mike Ranen on February 13 clarifying the application of the policy to College Houses.
Ranen followed up Hintze’s email because College Houses are not permitted to spend money in the same way that student groups are.
College House budgets come from the College. 501(c)(3) organizations such as Bowdoin “may not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,” according to an IRS administrative ruling. As a result, the Houses are forbidden from spending any of their budgets on partisan political activity.
Partisan student groups, however, are allowed to receive funding for partisan purposes. Chartered organizations or groups working under the umbrella of a chartered organization (such as the College Democrats and College Republicans) receive funding from the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC). The SAFC budget, which is administered by Bowdoin Student Government, is funded by the student activities fee, which every student pays annually (this year’s fee was $528 per student).
“SAFC money is … students giving [money] to each other,” said Ranen. “The College Houses have their budget, but theoretically the College gives them that money.”
Student groups may not, however, accept funding or donations from outside organizations or campaigns.
Ranen clarified that even though College Houses cannot spend money on an event supporting a partisan cause, SAFC-funded groups may host events in College Houses so long as all the money spent on it is drawn from SAFC funding.
The Political Activity Policy also stipulates that all posters must clearly state the sponsoring student group or name and email of the student who puts it up, and they must include the disclaimer that the posters do not express the views of the College.
A number of anonymous posters in support of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang appeared around campus, but both Hintze and Ranen said that the emails were precautionary, rather than reactionary.
“This was already in the process before those went up,” said Hintze. “The timing [of the email] was a little [later] than expected. My ideal would’ve been the day before [students] arrived to send it all out, but circumstances slowed it down, and we didn’t get it done in time.”
Hintze and Ranen stated that their goal is to keep Bowdoin out of trouble while supporting students as much as possible.
“We can do a lot, and it’s going to be a fun year in terms of political activity,” said Hintze. “I hope that students take advantage of getting politically active, supporting candidates and being involved on campus.”