Cities, Universities & Nonprofits Spend Over $800k Lobbying Washington

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


Cities and towns, colleges and universities, nonprofits, big corporations and unions are among the dozens of Rhode Island entities that have shelled out more than $6.4 million to Washington lobbyists over the last two years, according to a GoLocalProv review of lobbyist disclosure filings.

The top spenders consist of many of the state’s largest employers, including Citizen’s Bank ($1,810,000), GTECH ($745,000) and Hasbro ($700,000), but corporate giants aren’t the only ones working to influence members of Congress.

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The town of North Providence, for example, has paid Dean Martilli (who once served as chief of staff for former Congressman Patrick Kennedy) $110,000 since the beginning of 2011 to focus on a variety of issues, but the town’s Sept. 28 filing best sums up the goal of the majority of entities that hire lobbyists in Washington.

“Get Funding!”, the report states.

Colleges Spend Over $500,000

North Providence is not alone. Providence ($70,000) and Middletown ($30,000) are among the other communities that paid lobbyists to represents their interests in Washington over the last two years. In those cases, federal funding was also a top priority.

The list goes on. Brown University ($245,509), the University of Rhode Island’s Research Foundation ($210,000) and Salve Regina ($70,000) were all represented in Washington over the last two years as well. In Brown's case, the $245,509 covers a portion of government relations director Amy Carroll's salary and a portion of annual dues it pays for membership in national professional organizations, which the university is required to report, according to spokesperson Darlene Trew Crist.

“Brown does not have a paid lobbyist in Washington,” Trew Crist said. “We have a government relations director in has among her responsibilities working with several federal associations to track and advise on legislative, policy and regulatory activities of interest to higher education generally and Brown specifically. As a major research university, educational institution and one of the largest employers in the state of Rhode Island, Brown is effected by government policies and funding on a issues ranging from university-based research, federal student aid, tax and employment issues.”

Common Cause: Not Surprised

In all, 36 Rhode Island-based entities have reported spending a total of $6,405,509 on lobbyists since Jan. 2011 and more than $27.5 million since 1999 (EDITOR'S NOTE: Although CVS Caremark and Textron are located in Rhode Island, they do not list the state as a “client state,” and were not counted in GoLocalProv’s figures). In addition to big corporations, municipalities and higher educational institutions, nonprofits such as Save the Bay ($90,000) and unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 ($140,000) and United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry Local 51 ($70,000) also paid Washington lobbyists.

The figures come as no surprise to Common Cause executive director John Marion, who said that as the size and scope of the federal budget has increased dramatically over the last 40 years, “It should be of no surprise that Rhode Island companies have lobbied for a piece of that pie.”

“The fact that state and local governments as well as universities are doing the same is a reflection of the fact that they too rely on the federal government for significant resources either directly or indirectly,” Marion said.

Marion noted that in higher education, the National Science Foundation and other federal programs pay for the lion’s share of research and subsidized student loans underwrite tuition, which are two of the main issues the universities pay lobbyists to focus on.

In an interview with GoLocalProv earlier this year, Julie Cassidy, a former lobbyist, said that universities are almost forced to send representatives to Washington each year.

“The reason they hire lobbyists is because there’s literally hundreds of billions of dollars at stake for universities,” Cassidy said. “They almost always have to hire lobbyists.”

The same can be said for local and state governments depend on federal funds for both small and large programs. In Providence’s case, the capital city competes for millions of dollars each year.

“To keep those monies flowing the governments feel the need to lobby,” Marion said. “And the federal government has encouraged that by making some programs competitive.”

Lobbying a Long Process

But while competing for federal funding can be a priority, it isn’t the only reason lobbyists are sent to Washington. In some cases, they also monitor regulatory rules and nation’s budget process each year. Cassidy said lobbying can be an intricate process that lasts an entire year, from the time the President presents his budget to Congress all the way through House and Senate committee hearings and right down to passage of the budget.

In the case of a smaller nonprofit, for example, Cassidy said a lobbyist might be sent to Capitol Hill to make sure his/her organization has a seat at the table when Congress makes decisions. The hope may be to bring home extra funding, but if a lobbyist can learn about which direction lawmakers are heading on certain issues, that information can be just as valuable and of course, lead to dollars in the future.

Cassidy called lobbying in Washington a “long, convoluted process” most people don’t understand.

“A lot of people think you can just write a $5,000 check to a Senator and get a meeting,” she said. “That’s not really how it works.”

Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.


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