In lobbying, Yale looks to old ties

Photo by Alexandra Schmeling .

In a year of congressional turbulence and gridlock, Yale has invested significant time and money in influencing Capitol Hill.

During his first few months leading the University, President Peter Salovey has traveled twice to Washington, D.C. to meet with a smattering of congressmen, federal agency heads and university presidents. In doing so, he has advocated for research funding and immigration reform that would impact students and financial aid for those pursuing higher education — taking advantage of Yale’s significant alumni base and connections in the capitol.

But Salovey’s time in Washington is only a part of the University’s efforts to steer the federal government in a variety of policies that affect higher education. In the midst of continuous federal budget crises that could have major ramifications for the University’s research funds, the Yale Office of Federal Relations — which functions as an in-house lobbying firm for the University — is on track to spend nearly 20 percent more on lobbying this year than in 2012.

“There are so many places in the federal government and Congress that affect some things that happen at a research university,” said Ann Speicher, an associate vice president for public affairs at the Association of American Universities.

 

MR. SALOVEY GOES TO WASHINGTON

Salovey made his first presidential trip to the capitol only three weeks after moving into his new office in Woodbridge Hall on July 1.

On July 24, he met with a majority of the 18 Yale-alumni members of Congress. Salovey also said he might  in the future meet with heads of federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Energy — all of which are tied to Yale through grants or research-related work.

Even more recently, Salovey spent three days in the capitol in October at a presidential meeting of the Association of American Universities, an organization representing 62 of the largest research universities in the country.

“They [are] a well-respected organization on Capitol Hill,” Salovey said. “And our members of Congress are very interested in what they have to say.”

Still, the AAU employs only 23 staff, only six of whom work in federal relations. As a result, the AAU typically works with federal relations offices in its member universities, who do the majority of the lobbying.

The agenda of the yearly meeting is confidential and the event is entirely closed to the press or outside staff, meaning that the presidents and chancellors interact without any advisors present. Ann Speicher, an associate vice president for public affairs at the AAU, said the policy allows for a “very frank discussion about various issues mostly focused at the federal level.”

Salovey said the October meeting’s main topic of discussion was research funding in the federal budget, as well as the ongoing sequester which enforces automatic budget cuts across the federal government. He added this focus was not surprising given the past year’s political environment.

“We have been deeply concerned about the effect the sequester has had on our campuses in terms of programs that are being research funded,” Speicher said. “We are trying to make [congressmen] aware that what’s going on in Washington is really harming the system, that the cuts that are being made are really harmful and are not going to be [easily] remedied.”

According to the Nov. 11 results of a survey conducted by the AAU, 70 percent of universities experienced reductions in new federal research grants. The cuts have delayed research projects in 70 percent of the schools, cancelled projects at 35 percent and forced pullbacks in undergraduate student research at 30 percent.

And Yale falls among the affected schools, experiencing a 4 percent drop — from $562 million to $535 million — in federal grant and contract income between fiscal years 2012 and 2013, according to University Spokesman Tom Conroy, calling such drops a “poor trend for Yale and every research institution.”

Salovey’s efforts in Washington have largely been aimed at restoring those lost funds and advocating for more research funding in the future — though the effectiveness of these results cannot yet be ascertained, as Congress continues to battle over the federal budget.

 

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S LOBBYISTS

Still, Salovey can only spend days — not weeks or months — in the capitol, which places the brunt of Yale’s governmental efforts on the Office of Federal Relations. The University, unlike many of its peers, does not hire private Washington lobbying firms. As a result, the office serves as an in-house lobby shop that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to influence the federal government.

“There are people who have a lot of access on behalf of Yale to members of Congress,” Salovey said of the Federal Relations Office.

Specifically, Salovey meant Associate Vice President for Federal and State Relations Richard Jacob and Assistant Director for Federal Relations Kara Haas, who — as registered lobbyists — make frequent trips to Washington, where they advocate for policies on a range of issues that impact Yale.

In the quarter between July and September, Jacob and Haas lobbied on 17 bills in either the Senate or House of Representatives, according to forms filed in compliance with Section Five of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. The bills ranged significantly in scope. Some established new procedures for the sale of helium gas used in research, while others determined the federal budget — on which Jacob and Haas lobbied specifically on sections related to national defense, health, science, space, technology, education and training.

Of the 17 bills, three — the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, the Tax Relief Extension Act and the Helium Stewardship Act — have been signed into law by President Obama.

Given the current trend, Yale’s 2013 lobbying spending is likely to vastly surpass the past 10 years’ $536,000 average. In the first three quarters, according to the disclosure forms, Yale spent $510,000 on lobbying, compared to $540,000 during all of 2012. Approximately $240,000 of the 2013 figure was spent in the first quarter when budget negotiations dominated the political landscape, and $170,000 was spent in the third, when the federal budget again came to the fore.

And although the sequester continues, Jacob and Haas appear to have been relatively successful in some of their lobbying efforts.

According to Jamie Serlin, a spokesperson for Delaware Sen. Chris Coons LAW ’92 DIV ’92, both Jacob and Haas were present when Salovey met with Coons over the summer. Coons is the only Yale alumnus in the Senate currently serving on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees all discretionary spending in the federal budget.

In a Senate budget conference committee last week, Coons placed particular emphasis on the budget’s impact on innovation and long-term economic growth, two fields in which Salovey and Speicher both emphasized higher education’s role.

“There are some ways in which we are cutting that are hurting our long-term competitiveness,” Coons told the committee. “Short-term cuts in things like education, or infrastructure, or research and development produce long-term reductions in our capacity.”

Salovey said he hopes to host a bipartisan gathering of congressmen and staff with ties to Yale in the near future, adding that he has spoken to multiple congressmen about the idea and received a positive reaction.

“As University president, as someone with some Yale ties to people on the Hill, [I want] to take advantage of that to help Congress be more effective at a time when it is challenged and quite polarized,” Salovey said.

Correction: Nov. 22

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that President Salovey met with the heads of several federal agencies while in Washington. He told the News that he might meet with such heads in the future.

 

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