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.)