The University of Idaho (UI) says it will continue to pay a lobbying firm thousands of dollars annually to manage the school’s relations with the federal government, even as another Gem State school drops its lobbyist.
According to federal disclosure records, the UI spends more than $100,000 annually employing a firm to deal with federal agencies and Congress. Last year, the Moscow school paid $130,000 to Van Scoyoc Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based firm.
Through the last decade, UI has spent more than a million dollars on the line item.
And that’s just fine with the school’s vice president of research and development, Jack McIver.
“We really like to know what Congress is thinking and what the federal agencies are thinking,” McIver told IdahoReporter.com.
Van Scoyoc Associates, which logged more than $22 million in lobbying payments last year, serves as the school’s ears in the Beltway, McIver said. Even minor changes in federal policies—think student loan rates or research funding—can impact universities and colleges across the country in huge ways.
McIver maintained that Van Scoyoc’s main concern for UI isn’t lobbying, though that occurs occasionally. According to OpenSecrets.org, Van Scoyoc lobbied federal lawmakers on 13 bills in 2012, including several spending measures and the tax hike bill approved by Congress in the first few days of January.
Instead, the vice president said, the firm’s first task is to monitor the federal government’s pulse. “The main thing we get is information,” McIver said about the contract.
The firm plays a significant role on the school’s behalf, but perhaps not as much as what once was. McIver said that since Republicans instituted an earmark ban in 2011, the school has done less lobbying on bills to pull more funding back to campus.
Hundreds of miles to the south, Idaho State University recognized the same problem, but decided this year to take a different course of action. The Pocatello school dropped its $160,000-a-year lobbying contract and brought its federal relations efforts in-house.
“It is in my hands now to make sure there is little or no negative effect felt,” Howard Grimes, ISU vice president for research and development told IdahoReporter.com “I will work extremely hard to make sure the impact isn’t felt.”
Asked about ISU’s decision, McIver said the UI wouldn’t travel that route.
“That (in-house relations efforts) would be too much for us to handle by ourselves,” McIver said. “We’d have to hire another person for that.”
Paying a lobbying firm, the UI vice president said, is the fiscally smart path for the school, even though it might not appear so at first glance. To hire a staffer to work exclusively in D.C. would cost more, McIver explained, due to the region’s extremely high cost of living.
“Right now, financially, it’s a better deal for us to go this route,” McIver said.
But why can ISU bring its relations in-house while UI can’t?
It might just have to do with the amount of federal funding each school draws. ISU lists in its latest annual accounting report just more than $9.6 million in federal grants or contracts, a figure dwarfed by the UI’s $61.1 million in 2013.
“We rely heavily on that federal money,” McIver said.
According to the school’s latest report, federal grant and research dollars made up about 13 percent of the school’s budget. Federal student aid cash, more than $91 million in 2013, makes about another 20 percent of the UI budget.
McIver said the school does not use state funds to pay for lobbying and cannot use direct federal money. He couldn’t say exactly where the money comes from.
UI and ISU aren’t the only state schools to employ federal lobbyists. Boise State University, the state’s largest school, spent $160,000 on its lobbying firm last year. Coeur d’Alene’s North Idaho College, a two-year school in the state’s panhandle, pays about $40,000 annually for its representation in the Beltway.