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Hey, Big Spender! U of M Lobbying Payments Skyrocket

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From the St. Cloud Times via the Pioneer Press:

Other voices: The university lobby

A Sunday St. Cloud Times news report about University of Minnesota lobbying expenses raises some interesting questions about the practice of spending tax money to get tax money.

...the University of Minnesota is among the biggest spenders in higher education when it comes to lobbying in Washington. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog on campaign and lobbying spending, reports the university spent more than $1.7 million the past decade, including $510,000 last year. That amount ranked the university 20th among 872 education-related institutions that filed a report.

The university hired the top-earning lobbying firm in Washington -- Patton & Boggs LLP -- to sway the Federal Transit Administration and other agencies regarding the Central Corridor light-rail line, which is proposed to run though the campus.

The university was lobbying against other taxpayer-funded entities such as the Metropolitan Council and Ramsey County. In short, that means Minnesota tax dollars were spent lobbying for and against the same project.

At the least, in a situation such as this, shouldn't it be enough to work through in-house university lobbyists, members of Congress and the FTA to find resolutions instead of spending public money on both sides of one issue?

There is no easy formula to apply and determine whether the university's lobbying costs -- and the entire "education industry" -- are worth the public money being spent. That certainly must be hard for students to swallow, though, with tuition doubling in the same period analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

And that's why the center has it right when it notes that given how much public money is being spent, taxpayers need to know about it and especially what they are getting for their investments.

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