Since 1998, university lobbyists spend $1.4M

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Each year, millions of dollars pour into Washington, D.C. through efforts to sway federal legislation, and Marquette University is among the donors.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan government watchdog group, Marquette has spent nearly $1.4 million lobbying the federal government since 1998.

Marquette’s increasing expenditures follow the national trend. American institutions of higher education have tripled their lobbying efforts during the past decade, according to the group’s Web site, OpenSecrets.org.

In 1998, the first year of data available from the CRP, Marquette spent $50,000 on federal lobbying efforts. Last year, the university spent $110,000.

In 2000, the school’s most expensive year to date, Marquette’s lobbying expenses totaled $160,000.

Having a presence in Congress is necessary for universities attempting to thrive in today’s competitive, asset-limited environment, said Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics communications director.

Levinthal said there has been a “significant increase” in money spent on formal federal lobbying. Private professional lobbyists have become favored over school representatives in recent years, he said.

Rana Altenburg, vice president of Marquette’s office of public affairs, works as one of the university’s main lobbyists.

“It is important for the university to be represented in the policy-making process at all levels of government and to share how changes to laws will directly impact Marquette,” Altenburg said in an e-mail.

Altenburg is joined by Mary Czech-Mrochinski, William Lobb and Steve Schultz as Marquette’s employed lobbyists. The university hired Collins & Company, a Virginia-based government relations firm, from 1998-’08 to assist in its efforts. Marquette paid $80,000 to the company each year from 2000-’03.

Compared to the State University of New York — which spent nearly $1.5 million just in 2009 — Marquette’s efforts are minor.

But the lobbying expenditures of private and public institutions tend to be markedly different, Levinthal said. Big schools with large endowments and high national profiles have more money to spend and more to gain, he said.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison spent $350,000, and the UW-System spent $460,000 on lobbying in 2009. Despite the school’s sizeable investment return — millions in research funding — some Wisconsin residents may resent the spending, Levinthal said.

“If you’re a taxpayer, and you’re paying to support your public school, and that school is spending money to get more tax dollars from your pocket, some people will have a philosophical problem with that,” he said.

As a private institution, Marquette largely avoids this issue. Still, some individuals may wonder why a private school like Marquette is eligible to receive federal funding, Levinthal said.

Altenburg said Marquette’s lobbying-based expenses —  at both the federal and state level —  have yielded great benefits.

In accordance with Congress’ budget for the 2010 fiscal year, Marquette will receive $3.2 million in federal funding for its department of chemistry’s research on blast-resistant military materials and $850,000 toward its School of Dentistry’s three community clinics, she said.

In 2009, Marquette spent $129,438 lobbying Wisconsin’s state legislators, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s Web site.

On March 15, legislation was passed to create official blue-and-gold monogrammed state vehicle license plates.

In the past, topics of state lobbying efforts included the Marquette Interchange project and concealed weapon carrying laws.

As the state’s only dental education institution, Marquette’s School of Dentistry has also consistently been a focus of past state lobbying efforts, Altenburg said.

Julia Azari, an associate professor of political science, said the concept of lobbying was borrowed from British Parliament and has a long history in American politics.

Lobbying has evolved over time and has become “a way that members of Congress interact with society at large,” Azari said.

“Everyone else is doing it, so it makes perfect sense for higher education to try to get a piece of the pie,” she said.

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