University Lobbying Declines
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 02:03
Georgetown’s expenditure on lobbying Congress has dropped sharply over the last decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research firm that collects information from the Senate Office of Public Records.
Between 2001 and 2012, the years for which data are available on the firm’s website, university lobbying costs hovered around $200,000 annually in the early 2000s, peaked at $380,000 in 2007 and reached an 11-year low of $40,000 in 2012.
Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming said that the decline in spending has not been prompted by concerns about funding constraints and that the university continues to actively lobby in support of a variety of programs and initiatives.
“Our lobbying activities vary from year to year depending on what issues are priorities at a particular time. As a result, there are fluctuations in the amounts of lobbying, even from quarter to quarter,” Fleming said.
The ups and downs in the university’s yearly lobbying spending are driven by events in Congress, according to Fleming. Georgetown’s spending most often increases when lawmakers take up issues related to national education funding.
“Last week I spent an entire five days on Capitol Hill having arranged meetings about the Scholarships for Education and Economic Development program,” Fleming said. “Georgetown has managed it for years, and because of this, there is some revenue gain to the university.”
According to Fleming, the large spike in lobbying spending in 2007 is mostly explained by Congress’ decision to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. The reauthorization took an extensive amount of work on the part of university lobbyists from across the country, whose employers have an interest in acquiring educational grants.
Chantal Santelices, director of the Center for Intercultural Education and Development, said that her organization has benefitted from Fleming’s efforts to secure funding from the HEA and other pieces of federal legislation.
“Fleming has been instrumental in reaching out to Congress and government agencies to inform them of CIED’s and Georgetown University’s mission, capabilities and accomplishments,” she said. “He is an invaluable resource for the university to understand opportunities and challenges in work and research funded by the U.S. government.”
According to Fleming, funding from the HEA is critical to the work done at many programs at Georgetown besides CIED. Other major recipients of federal funding include the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies; the National Resource Center on the Middle East and North Africa; and the National Resource Center on East Asia.
Another factor behind the rise in lobbying spending during 2007, Fleming said, was the time and work he devoted to helping the Georgetown varsity crew team acquire the necessary permits to construct a new boathouse on the Potomac River.
Fleming added that the university’s expenditure on lobbying as represented in the federal government’s records reflect quarterly rounding of expenditures.
“For instance, in a number of quarters, we’ve spent maybe $6,000, but we have to count it as $10,000,” he explained.
Fleming added that Georgetown is frugal in its lobbying expenditures relative to other private universities. According to The GW Hatchet, Boston University spent about $1.5 million lobbying Congress last year. However, The Hatchet also reported that The George Washington University’s expenditures on federal lobbying had been eliminated since 2007 following a series of deep budget cuts.
What concern Fleming most about Georgetown’s financial relationship with Congress are the automatic budget cuts commonly referred to as the sequester and the possibility of future cuts to discretionary domestic spending.
Fleming also said that there seems to be a surge in momentum on Capitol Hill toward the passing of immigration reform and indicated that Georgetown will continue to be involved in the deliberation process. University President John J. DeGioia has signed several letters in recent months advocating immigration reform, according to Fleming.
“President DeGioia has a long history of supporting highly educated immigrants,” Fleming said.
Zack Zappone (COL ’13), who plans to work for federally funded Teach for America this fall, said that he thought Georgetown’s financial relationship with Congress was appropriate.
“I think it’s the role of the federal government to support the advancement of education and higher education,” Zappone said. “So I think it’s appropriate and good for Georgetown to secure funding from the federal government.”
Fleming agreed with Zappone’s notion that the federal government has an obligation to financially support institutions like Georgetown and said that he considers it his central goal to help Georgetown students acquire resources and connections in whatever way he can.
“I wake up and say to myself that everything I should do should be to help Georgetown students,” Fleming said. “I like to think that every issue that I work on is important to our students. Whether it’s direct lobbying to improve the quality of education or working with students in program activities or connecting them with people that could set them on a future career path, that’s all part and parcel of what my job is all about.”