WASHINGTON – Ohio University ratcheted up spending on federal and state lobbying to nearly a half million dollars during President Roderick McDavis' sophomore year as part of an ongoing effort to recast the university as a nationally prominent research school.
Last year,the university spent more than $477,000 on lobbying,an increase of nearly $300,000 from the previous school year,in an attempt to reach its goal of $100 million annually in outside funding for research by 2009.
In his 2004 inaugural address,McDavis vowed to “continue to increase our external support for research to $100 million over the next five years.”
“It's a lofty goal,” Teri Geiger,director of government relations,said. “Certainly,you try and aim high,and you don't typically set those goals at a low spot.”
According to figures provided by the university for the 2004-05 school year,the latest year for which data is available,the university is about $70.5 million short of that $100 million goal – with four years to go.
The university,located in Athens,Ohio,disputes that figure,saying total outside funding is about $57 million. But part of that figure is what the university calls “non-research funding,” which includes community and health outreach programs.
The $57 million figure “encompasses two things: research and sponsored programs,” such as outreach programs to the Athens community,said Andrea Gibson,director of research communications.
McDavis used the $57 million figure when he outlined his goal for research,Jack Bantle,vice president for research,said. Bantle,who helped McDavis develop the goal,said the university does not distinguish between research and sponsored programs.
In McDavis' first year in office,the university lost about $500,000 in research funding. A $1.4 million reduction in federal funding was partly offset by an $800,000 gain in state funding.
The amount of money received for research last year is still being tabulated and will be released soon,Gibson said.
But Geiger said it's not “fair to only focus on the money returned,” because lobbying efforts “take years.”
She said lobbying is “also about other kinds of legislation” and building relationships with federal and state officials.
The university hired Geiger,who's no stranger to Ohio politics,last fall to accomplish that task. She earns $130,000 annually.
Before working for the university,Geiger was chief of staff to the Republican Senate Majority Caucus from 1996 to 2005. She was the Republican Senate campaign committee media coordinator during that same time.
Now she is helping the university to develop a national presence. That's something the university has not had since it lobbied to reroute the Hocking River in the 1970s,Alan Geiger,assistant to the president,said in an interview last year. He is not related to Teri Geiger.
In recent years,the university president and vice president worked on issues through national associations,Geiger said in a recent interview.
The university has to lobby to further its goals and protect its interests from laws and regulations that affect it and to earn earmarks for research projects,Teri Geiger said.
Earmarks are appropriations for specific projects that members of Congress tack onto spending bills,bypassing the usual review of spending requests. Their use is a hotly debated subject.
The university earned two earmarks totaling about $1.3 million last year for improvements at the university's airport and for its consortium for energy,economics,and the environment.
Alumnae Beverly Jones,an independent lobbyist,and the Washington firm Patton Boggs LLP urged members of Congress to place earmarks in appropriations bills,some of which remain before Senate committees.
Jones,who as an OU student in the 1970s campaigned for increased spending on women's sports,cost the university $45,000 last year. Her contract was not renewed when it expired in June.
The university will primarily use Patton Boggs,which it pays $12,500 a month in retainer fees,plus expenses,for federal lobbying,Teri Geiger said. The university paid the firm $156,400 last year.
Examples from records obtained by Scripps Howard Foundation Wire included $315 billed against the retainer for one hour of work reviewing “new ideas” from the university and responding to them via e-mail. The firm also charged $78.75 for 15 minutes spent writing e-mails to the university.
“Our efforts with Patton Boggs have been crafting potential earmark proposals for programs at the university,” Geiger said.
Patton Boggs' contract stipulates the firm was to increase the money the university gets from the federal government by $5 million last year and $10 million this year.
It's “way too premature” to determine if those efforts were successful because congressional appropriation bills,to which earmarks are attached,have only passed the House,Geiger said. The Senate is expected to vote on the bills when it returns from recess in September.
But Geiger did say the university was “pleased” with what it has seen so far.
The university submitted a number of earmark requests,Lisa Duvall,press secretary for Rep. Ted Strickland,D-Ohio,said. It's “too early in the process to say definitely what they got and what they didn't get,” she said.
But earmarks are not the only source of federal funding. The university gets most of its research money from federal grants through the formal budget process.
And though the majority of research funds come from federal and state sources,including $750,000 in state research challenge money,the university has other funding routes.
The university collects about $4.5 million in royalties from patents. About a third of that goes to the inventor,usually a faculty a member,and the other portion goes to the office of the vice president of research,Gibson said.
The money is reinvested into research,she added.
The $477,000 lobbying budget covers Teri Geiger's salary,fees for Jones and Patton Boggs and half the salary of George F. Dunigan II,whom the College of Osteopathic Medicine retains as its lobbyist. The Ohio Osteopathic Association pays the other half of his $108,490 salary.
The total also includes $48,300 for Stanley Skocki III,who lobbied on behalf of the university through two different lobbying groups,Fleishman and Walsh LLP and the Normandy Group LLC.
Although some people may find it strange that a public school has to lobby to receive funding,Alan Geiger offered a different perspective: “One has to have a presence in order to champion our institutional causes.”