Why Do Colleges Need lobbyists?
September 14, 2007
An article this week in the IndyStar explored how Higher Education institutions are spending an increasing amount of money on federal lobbying. This increase in spending is causing some elected officials and advocacy groups to question whether public higher education institutions should spend money on lobbying. Legislation has even been introduced to ban public institutions from spending federal public money on lobbying. This same issue is often brought up at state legislatures around the country.
However, this approach represents a very "Polyanna" view of our legislative process. Lobbying is a critical way that elected officials hear the needs of public colleges and universities around the country. Many institutions have stepped up their federal lobbying efforts because of the cuts that they are facing from their state legislatures back home.
The trend of spending more money on lobbyists is not unique to higher education. From 2000 to 2005 the number of federal lobbyists doubled and the amount spent on lobbying reached a record $2.1 billion. If higher education institutions don't have lobbyists, then their voice is going to be drowned out by all the private lobbyists petitioning Congress steer money in other directions.
The move to ban public money from being spent on lobbyists is something all higher education institutions should take note of. It reinforces the need for institutions to diversify how they advocate for public investment in higher education. Lobbying itself is no longer enough. Integrating grassroots and public relations efforts is the best way for institutions to make their case to elected officials. Showing that the public supports your institution is more effective than just saying it.