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University reports $120,000 in lobbying costs, higher than other local institutions

By Amanda Hancock
On December 7, 2012

In an effort to advocate for the school's needs, Miami University spends thousands of dollars on lobbyists each year.

Miami has paid a professional lobbying firm $42,000 for the past three years, according to associate director of university communications Claire Wagner.

"Miami and any other organization, whether it's a school, a non-profit agency or a company, may need someone to advocate on their behalf because it's another way to share information," Wagner said.

Wagner said many additional activities can fall under the lobbying umbrella.

"When you communicate with any official, and give information about a program or region, someone may consider that activity lobbying," she said. "It's not just lobbyists who lobby."

With this expanded definition, Miami reports lobbying-associated costs that add up to $120,000 each year, according to Wagner. A federal law mandates reporting of expenditures for universities. Miami's number is more than other universities in the area, Wagner said; for example, Wright State University spends $60,000 each year.

"We may report more [money] than other universities, but we are not necessarily spending more than other universities," Wagner said, because of the broad activities that Miami defines as lobbying.

Many events and informational visits do not seek funding, but Wagner said Miami chooses to include them when reporting in order to cover all the bases within the intricacies of the reporting law.

"In that way, we likely over-report our spending," she said.

Randi Thomas, Esq., Miami's director of institutional relations is also Miami's official on-campus lobbyist. He represents Miami to Ohio governmental agencies and legislators; as well as to federal officials.  

In addition to the $42,000 spent on the firm, other lobbying expenses include a percentage of Thomas' salary, dues to educational associations and travel costs for Miamians who visit with federal officials.

The majority of Thomas' work is done between Oxford and Columbus. He works with faculty and staff on campus to learn of the programs that are enhancing public life, student retention and graduation. He then communicates that information to the Governor's office, the Ohio Board of Regents and other representatives.  

"Sometimes it is pro-active, and sometimes it is in response to queries; other times it's just providing mandatory data to help legislators make decisions," Wagner said of Thomas' initiatives.

Thomas frequently has students participate in Congressional visits to describe their Miami experiences.

"The students focus on the direct exposure that they had to tenured faculty, their hands on use of cutting edge research equipment and their publishing the findings of the research in scientific and related journals," Thomas said.

The students that help him with his lobbying activities have been excited about engaging with their government on issues of importance to them, Thomas said.

Greg Dick, a sophomore political science major interned in Thomas's office and assisted with lobbying efforts.

"They have generally found the experience worthwhile and satisfying," he said.

These activities seek to provide information showing that Miami officials are good stewards of the public trust, promote specific good work of the university and advocate for ways to fund projects.

Miami pays a Washington, D.C. based lobbying firm, The Majority Group, $3,500 per month, which is less than the average base rate of $5,000, according to Wagner.

Twelve lobbyists in that firm meet in person with Miami faculty and staff to continually be aware of interests and opportunities at the federal level and to ensure that when discussions happen in D.C., local information is passed on.

Wagner said because Miami is a strong partner of Oxford, local townships and Butler County, lobbyists help garner millions of dollars to improve safety at intersections on states roads such as state Routes 73 and 127.

Much of the money spent has been in partnership with municipalities, and some has been for campus and educational improvements.

A unique example of what falls into the spending is 'Posters on the Hill,' a program in which Miami undergrads visit several Capitol Hill offices and present research posters at a reception in D.C. which regional alumni, Ohio legislators and aides are invited to view.

Both Thomas and Dick acknowledged that students may view lobbying with a negative connotation.

"It's easy to find fault with the process but it's also important realize that lobbying also helps to fund some really great things like hospitals and universities," Dick said.

Thomas said he suspected that many students are unaware of what lobbying actually entails.

For Dick though, he says lobbying is a valuable asset for Miami and provides a way for him and other students to see the government in an up close and personal way.

"Lobbying impacts each and every student on this campus whether they know it or not, from keeping tuition rate increases in check by securing government funding to allowing science students the opportunity to conduct lab experiments and research in modern labs with the latest and greatest technology," he said.

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