Schools Spent More Than $1.3 Million on Lobbying

September 14, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveCorrection: This report initially overstated the amount of money Francis Marion, MUSC and The Citadel spent on in-state lobbying during 2009. The correct figures appear below.

Despite continued concern over budget shortfalls and rising tuition rates, South Carolina’s public universities continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying state and federal legislators.

The state’s two largest schools – the University of South Carolina and Clemson University – have shelled out more than $900,000 combined for lobbying since the start of 2009, according to state and federal databases.

In fact, since 2006, Clemson has spent nearly $1 million – $985,871, to be exact – just on federal lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org, which is run by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group that tracks money in U.S. politics.

Through the first six months of this year, Clemson spent $145,927 on federal lobbying, about the same pace as last year when it laid out $289,944 for all of 2009.

The University of South Carolina has spent $870,000 on federal lobbying since 2006. Through the first six months of 2010, USC spent $90,000 on federal lobbying.

If that pace continues through the rest of the year, it would represent an increase of nearly 40 percent over 2009, when USC doled out $130,000 for federal lobbying.

Taxpayer-funded lobbying is seen as problematic because it essentially occurs behind closed doors, as opposed to budget maneuvering that takes place in a more open manner.

It also adds an extra and unnecessary layer of government process that conflicts with good, open-government policies, critics of the practice say.

Critics also assert that lobbyists are unnecessary. Universities, they claim, should have many qualified individuals able to answer legislators’ questions and present information to lawmakers without having to pay for hired guns to push the schools’ agendas.

In addition, there’s always the risk that taxpayers, whether they realize it, might be paying a lobbyist to advocate for something they oppose, critics add.

On top of money spent on federal lobbying, USC and Clemson also spend considerable money on state lobbying, although it’s difficult to get an exact cost because while lobbying costs are included in State Ethics Commission reports, salaries paid to employees hired to lobby are not.

Between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2010, Clemson recorded in-state lobbyist expenditures of $42,488, according to the State Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission tracks money spent on in-state lobbying and details spending for the first five months of the year, rather than quarterly like OpenSecrets.org.

For all of 2009, Clemson spent $103,569 on in-state lobbying.

During the first five months of 2010, USC recorded in-state lobbyist payments of $22,236, while for all of 2009 it spent $36,708, according to the State Ethics Commission.

While USC and Clemson are the only public South Carolina schools putting money toward federal lobbying, there are several other schools in the state that spending funds on in-state lobbying, including:

  • Francis Marion University, which spent $60,248 between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2010, and $137,322 during 2009;
  • The Medical University of South Carolina recorded $52,394 in in-state lobbying costs during the first five months of this year and $121,986 during 2009; and
  • The Citadel laid out $20,750 through the first five months of 2010 and $57,988 for all of last year.

Combined, Clemson, USC, Francis Marion, MUSC and The Citadel have spent more than $1.3 million on lobbying since the start of 2009.

That use of state dollars can be seen as troubling given the state’s dire financial condition.

Colleges, along with schools, prisons and other state agencies, have seen a sizeable portion of their budgets lopped off over the past couple of years because of the ongoing recession. And the Palmetto State is facing a projected $1 billion budget shortfall in fiscal year 2010-11.

Meanwhile, tuition costs continue to rise. This year’s tuition increases have included a bump of nearly 15 percent at the College of Charleston, 13 percent at The Citadel, 7.5 percent at Clemson University, 6.9 percent at the University of South Carolina and 9 percent at MUSC.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110 or at kevin@thenerve.org.