Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

The Lobbyists: Confronting Cutbacks

Florida's colleges and universities endured a grueling 2011 legislative session, unsuccessfully attempting to persuade Florida lawmakers to spare higher education from funding cuts amid a $3.8-billion budget shortfall.

Ultimately, the Legislature slashed state university funding by about 4%, assuming additionally that all schools will increase tuition by 15%. Lawmakers also cut the popular Bright Futures scholarship program by 20% and suspended the state's dollar-for-dollar matching gift program for large private donations to universities.

"It was a really tough year across the board ... a very, very tough year from the budgetary standpoint," says Mark Walsh, who lobbies on behalf of the University of South Florida.

Private institutions shared the pain. Lawmakers reduced funding for the Florida Resident Access Grant, a grant awarded to students who attend private colleges and universities in Florida, from $2,425 per student to $2,149. "We were at $3,000 per student four short years ago," says Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, which lobbies for Florida's 29 private, not-for-profit schools.

Florida's private historically black colleges and universities also took a hit: Their $8.7-million appropriation is 7% less than what they received last year and 27% less than the $12.1 million appropriated in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

? Mark Walsh

Government relations director, University of South Florida

Mark Walsh
Mark Walsh? [Photo: Mark Wemple]

Smoke and mirrors: Two years ago, Walsh had to dispel a rumor that University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft had spent $2 million on a fancy yacht. The boat was actually a 15-year-old marine research vessel that USF had purchased to replace a 40-year-old vessel. Walsh says that certain "legislative personnel" wanted lawmakers to think otherwise to divert funding to their preferred project. "Misinformation and disinformation can be powerful — particularly when the timeframes are short," says Walsh.

Teamwork: "Sometimes our outside supporters have trouble seeing us all succeed because that football rivalry penetrates the legislative rivalry as well — but most of that is not driven internally by the universities or their lobbyists," says Walsh. "This year ... we're working together more than we're working apart."

? Kathleen Daly

Assistant vice president for governmental relations, Florida State University

Challenges: Changes to the state employee pension system — workers will have to contribute 3% of their salary to their retirement plan — will hurt universities when it comes to recruiting new faculty.

Kathleen Daly
Kathleen Daly? [Photo:Ray Stanyard]
Local advantage: "Our folks around here on our campus are called upon more to testify to give expert testimony" because of FSU's proximity to the Capitol.

Unified strength: Representatives of the state universities "gather regularly during session, and we share our intelligence and we strategize together," says Daly.

Insider tip: "Don't burn bridges because your adversary one day may be your ally the next. Not may be — will be. That's the way this process works."

? Yolanda Jackson

Attorney, Becker & Poliakoff

Represents: Bethune-Cookman (Daytona Beach); Edward Waters (Jacksonville); Florida Memorial University (Miami)

Challenges: Historically black schools traditionally are associated with Democratic legislators but received their greatest allocation — more than $12 million — under Republican Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal eliminated funding for all but one black Florida university, but the Legislature restored the appropriations.

Yolanda Jackson
Yolanda Jackson? [Photo: Daniel Portnoy]
Rewards: "Eighty percent of the students who attend HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) come from household incomes of less than $30,000 a year," Jackson says. "The majority are the first-time attendees of college in their families."

No. 1 rule of lobbying: "Tell the truth and tell both sides of the story. Sometimes your side is not necessarily the best side. Legislators and your clients appreciate you telling it to them straight," she says.

? Jane Adams

Vice president of university relations, University of Florida

Jane Adams
Jane Adams meets with state Sen. Steve Oelrich.? [Photo: Eric Zamora/UF]
Getting creative: With funds tight, Adams has focused on getting the Legislature to allow the school to be more flexible with the money it has. This past session, for instance, the Legislature agreed to allow UF to offer students a spring/summer academic year, with students able to use Bright Futures scholarships for the summer session. Allowing students to bypass the crowded fall semester, Adams says, will create access for an additional 2,000 students by 2013.

The "E" word: "Since earmarks have dried up," she says, "we're not looking to Congress so much for that sort of federal funding," but federal contracts and grants continue to fuel university research. UF receives more than $600 million annually for research.

Victories: The schools defeated a House bill that would have deregulated athletic agents, potentially opening the door to more NCAA violations.

? Student Reps

University officials aren't the only ones playing the higher-ed lobbying game. At least three university student government associations have hired contract lobbyists in Tallahassee: The University of Central Florida Student Government Association pays GrayRobinson $40,000 for lobbying services; the University of Florida Student Government Association has Capital City Consulting on a $25,000 retainer; and the Florida State University Student Government Association pays Pittman Law Group $60,000.

Sean Pittman
Sean Pittman? [Photo: Pittman Law Group]
"It's much different than 20 years ago when 10 students just came up from a university trying to get in to see their local representative or local senator. Now they have people who work in the process every day," says Sean Pittman, who has assisted the FSU student government association on issues from tuition increases to student representation on the Florida Board of Governors.

Big Presence = Big Money

Florida colleges and universities have a significant lobbying presence at both the federal and state level.

Most colleges and universities — and the associations that represent them — hire well-connected, private lobbying firms to press their cases in Tallahassee and on Capitol Hill. In 2010, contract lobbyists earned more than $3.3 million representing various colleges and universities in front of state lawmakers, according to a Florida Trend analysis of state lobbying compensation records. In their quest for federal dollars, Florida schools spent upward of $3.3 million lobbying members of Congress. Restrictions in state law mean the schools typically pay for lobbyists with funds from their foundations.

Federal Lobbying (2010)
Institution Lobby Expenses
University of Miami $587,918
State University System of Florida 460,000
University of South Florida 400,000
University of Florida Foundation 280,000
Florida International University 348,499
Nova Southeastern University 360,000
Keiser University 210,000
Florida Atlantic University 120,000
University of Central Florida 120,000
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 100,000
Florida Gulf Coast University 85,000
Barry University 80,000
Florida A&M University 70,000
Florida State University 55,000
Source: Center for Responsive Politics

State Lobbying (2010)
Institution Lobbying Firm Legislative Executive (range)
Barry University Corcoran & Johnston $20,000 $2 - $19,998
Holland & Knight 0 30,002 - 69,996
Bethune-Cookman University Becker & Poliakoff 20,000 0
Brevard Community College Spearman Management 15,000 10,000 - 19,999
Brevard Community College Foundation Spearman Management 65,000 50,000 - 79,997
Dade Medical College Cruz & Co. 30,000 20,000 - 39,998
Dutko Worldwide 20,000 4 - 39,996
Edward Waters College Becker & Poliakoff 20,000 0
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Pennington Moore Wilkinson Bell 20,000 4 - 39,996
Florida Association of Community Colleges Governmental Solutions 10,000 2 - 19,998
Southern Strategy Group 60,000 4 - 39,996
Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools & Colleges Mortham Governmental Consultants 60,000 40,000 -79,996
Florida Atlantic University Foundation Southern Strategy Group 60,000 4 - 39,996
Florida International University Foundation ADF Consulting 20,000 0
Florida Consultants 60,000 0
Floridian Partners 40,000 4 - 39,996
Gomez Barker Associates 35,000 0
Johnson & Blanton 60,000 40,000 - 79,996
Advocacy Group @ Cardenas Partners 15,000 10,000 - 19,999
Florida Memorial University Becker & Poliakoff 100,000 0
Florida Southern College Florida Strategic Group 20,000 4 - 39,996
Hodges University J. Keith Arnold & Associates 20,000 4 - 39,996
Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF) Frank N. Tsamoutales 20,000 10,001 - 29,998
Sachs Sax Caplan 140,000 4 - 39,996
SKB Consulting Group 20,000 4 - 39,996
Advocacy Group@ Cardenas Partners 40,000 20,002 - 59,996
Keiser University Fowler White Boggs 100,000 80,000 - 119,996
Lake Erie College Osteopathic Medicine T. B. Consultants 100,000 80,000 - 119,996
New College Foundation Capital City Consulting 60,000 4 - 39,996
Nova Southeastern University Corcoran & Johnston 20,000 4 - 39,996
Panza Maurer & Maynard 225,000 225,000
Smith & Ballard 60,000 40,000 - 79,996
Rubin Group 20,000 4 - 39,996
University of Central Florida Foundation GrayRobinson 70,000 50,000 - 89,996
Southern Strategy Group 30,000 4 - 39,996
University of Florida Foundation Brewton Plante 60,000 0
Moreton Consulting 60,000 0
Smith Bryan & Myers 50,000 4 - 39,996
Southern Strategy Group 0 20,001 - 49,997
University of Miami Blosser & Sayfie 25,000 10,002 - 39,997
Larry J. Overton & Associates 0 80,000 - 119,996
Ronald L. Book 140,000 0
University of Phoenix Dutko Worldwide 60,000 40,000 - 79,996
University of South Florida Foundation Corcoran & Johnston 100,000 4 - 39,996
University of West Florida Foundation Heffley & Associates 20,000 4 - 39,996