For the seventh consecutive quarter, GW spent no money directly lobbying the federal government, according to reports from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Third quarter lobbying reports for 2009 – released at the end of October – show GW still retains the lobbying group Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, but that neither the University nor the firm reported lobbying expenses for the school, despite it receiving more than $13 million dollars in stimulus money this year.
The decreased presence in the educational lobbying world dropped precipitously in 2007, when the University decreased its lobbying expenses from almost $300,000 in 2006 to roughly $30,000 in 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It was also around this time that GW started rethinking its traditional lobbying policy, favoring a more personal approach when dealing with the federal government, Director of Government Relations Kent Springfield said.
“Lobbying is a tool that government relations folks can use, but it is by no means synonymous with government relations,” Springfield said.
The goal became having people “in-house to handle government relations,” said Executive Director of Government and Community Relations Michael Akin. The drop in direct lobbying does not affect the University’s ability to draw funds in, he said.
“Money in-flows don’t solely come from government appropriations,” Akin said.
GW moved from direct lobbying to “finding people, accessing them and presenting your case,” he added.
It also expanded relationships with higher education organizations in D.C., like American Council on Education, which spent $288,011 lobbying during the first three quarters of 2009.
“We work very closely with our associations here in D.C, like the American Council on Education,” which also unites many institutions of higher education to lobby on behalf of universal issues, Akin said.
Bernard Demczuk, assistant vice president for D.C. government relations, said a nontraditional approach can work even better than pouring funds into direct lobbying.
“My best lobbying is done when I’m not lobbying, I just keep building relationships,” Demczuk said.
The new technique puts the University at odds with other similar schools, like Boston University. Boston University has spent $720,000 in lobbying expenses this year, and representatives at the school said it’s common for universities to team up with higher education groups while directly lobbying.
“Colleges and universities are members of higher education associations that lobby on their behalf on a host of common issues, such as student aid, research funding, access and affordability issues,” BU’s Director of Media Relations Colin Riley said.
When asked if GW would find itself at a disadvantage because of its lack of direct lobbying, Riley said the choice to lobby should be an in-house decision.
“I think each school needs to make it’s own decision with regard to their needs and what works best for them,” Riley said.
Education and funding for educational institutions have not been immune to the troubled economy, Center for Responsive Politics spokesman Dave Levinthal said.
“Over the past decade, every year the education sector would increase its overall lobbying expenditures from the year before. In 2009, however, the sector has spent $73.9 million on lobbying efforts over the first three quarters of this year. That puts them just off the pace of where they were last year, lobbying to the tune of 106.1 million,” Levinthal said. “This year could be the first year after a decade where the numbers went down instead of up.”
While GW is not currently lobbying, Akin said the University has not ruled out the possibility of reaching out to the federal government by more traditional means down the road.
In the past, GW lobbied for funding for the National Crash Analysis Center at GW’s Virginia campus, Akin said, adding the University “will make determinations about future federal lobbying activity based on evolving needs and opportunities.”