Lobbying at Boston University

One of President Trump’s many campaign promises was to “Drain the Swamp” – eliminate corruption in Washington by limiting the influence of professional “hired gun” lobbyists and special interests. The funny thing about that promise is that it may have been achieved by the GOP Congress way back in 2011… at least as it relates to universities. 

As we know from a previous post, Boston University is a major player in higher education lobbying. BU spent around $1 Million in lobbying every year from 2008 until 2014. But as you can see, between 2011 and 2012, BU doubled its lobbying expenditures to a little over $2 Million. After that, however, the Terriers spent much less on lobbying – only just over $500K.

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Why might this have happened? Late in 2011, the John Boehner-led House of Representatives instituted a ban on “earmarks” – direct funding to organizations without going through a competitive process. Lobbyists love earmarks. University lobbyists especially love earmarks. They can bring research dollars to their institutions without having to go through the competitive grant-making processes of the NIH, NSF, and DARPA. Boston University was known for unabashedly seeking earmarks. I think it is likely that from 2011-2012 Boston University was squeezing all the money it could out of Congress before the ban kicked in. After the ban, with no earmarks on the table, Boston University could spend its millions of dollars elsewhere.

This is all just my hypothesis. My hope is that, once I get IRB approval, I can interview some of the folks on Commonwealth Ave. to find out for sure! This BU case study would play a major part in my dissertation.

Update: January 8, 2018 – My dissertation is rolling along at this point. Haven’t yet gotten an interview with Boston University, but I have interviewed a number of other like universities – and it has been fascinating!

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