The University has spent more than $3 million lobbying the United States government over the past 10 years, but has recently minimized formal lobbying in favor of a more relationship-based approach, according to a Hatchet analysis of disclosure forms and interviews with administrators.
Lobbying expenses peaked in 2003 when GW spent $629,000, documents show, with most of the focus going to appropriations bills. Increases in lobbying like that usually coincide with a major opportunities in the federal government, said Michael Akin, GW’s executive director of Government, International and Community Relations.
“There are times in the University’s history where we’ve decided there were things we wanted to go after – whether that be transportation money or a cancer center or various things like that – we would either directly lobby or bring in lobbyists and the University would pay them to do this,” Akin said.
But in the first two years of University President Steven Knapp’s administration, GW has spent less than $65,000 lobbying Congress, according to lobbying reports filed with the Senate and House of Representatives naming the University as a client.
This change can be attributed to a lack of bills that have required lobbying, Akin said. But the University has also had a larger focus on government relations rather than direct lobbying, said Kent Springfield, GW’s assistant director for Federal Government Relations.
“We spend an awful lot of time sort of managing relationships with alumni members, staff, things like that,” he said. “There are a lot of activities that fall into that area that are just about building relationships.”
Along with this approach, the University has also focused on cooperating with the federal government to have expert professors testify on issues, keeping track of bills that are passed and their ramifications for the University and holding their annual Capitol Hill alumni event.
Though GW has shied away from direct lobbying recently, the University has spent significant time monitoring the recently passed economic stimulus bill, Akin said. Government relations officials have been looking to see if “opportunities may exist under all the research funding” the Act includes, Akin said in an interview two weeks ago, before the bill was signed.
“We are not directly down on Capitol Hill lobbying for anything in the stimulus bill. We’re not down there saying, ‘Make sure GW’s in there for this many millions of dollars,’ ” Akin said.
In the past, GW has spent large amounts of money lobbying for a few key issues, lobbying reports show. The University has spent more than $10,000 in the past two years lobbying the Health and Human Services Department through the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, according to the reports. That lobbying involved obtaining information for use in a GW Department of Health Policy study that dealt with low-income health clinics, Akin said. The Bush administration was initially resistant to the lobbying, so additional work was required, he added.
The University also spent $280,000 in 2006 directly lobbying the federal government to help fund the GW Cancer Institute, according to reports, as well as $420,000 lobbying Congress between 2004 and 2006 on Department of Transportation appropriations through the lobbying firm Livingston Group, reports show.
“The Livingston Group’s transportation lobbying was largely related to engineering programs at the Virginia Campus – including the National Crash Analysis Center,” Akin said.
Former Vice President of Government, International and Corporate Relations Richard Sawaya was a registered federal lobbyist for the University until he left last spring, and GW currently has no federally registered lobbyist, University officials said.
Re-engaging an outside lobbying firm like the Livingston Group would be a University-wide decision, Akin said.
“When you engage a federal lobbyist there are certain things the University as a whole can and can’t do . so registering a lobbyist goes beyond the lobbyist, it applies to the whole institution.” he said. “If we were to make that determination it would be something that . Vice President [of External Relations Lorraine] Voles, and President Knapp and everyone else would likely be involved in.”
Voles, who joined GW in February in the newly created vice president of external affairs position, will direct the goals of future lobbying activities, Akin said.