Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting the Details Right

Today Kathrine Lackey at the Collegian takes a look at Penn State's state and federal lobbying expenditures for last year. I'm happy that this issue is getting attention in a forum with a wider readership than this lowly blog. However, the story does require some clarification and correction.

Katherine writes that
According to reports, both Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh -- state-related universities like Penn State -- spent more on lobbying [the state] than Penn State last year.
She arrives at that conclusion by lumping together the lobbying expenses of the Pitt and Temple with the lobbying expenses of the health systems of these universities. This is misleading.

Because these medical centers are independent of their universities, the university presidents and boards of trustees have no control over how much the centers spend on lobbying . On the other hand, Penn State and the Hershey Medical Center are not separate entities. Hence it would be unfair to Pitt and Temple to lump the lobbying expenses of their medical centers in with the lobbying expenses of their universities when making a comparison to Penn State.

Here is how the relationship between Pitt and UPMC is described in UPMC's 2006 annual report.
“Equipoise” is how Arthur S. Levine, MD, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences, University of Pittsburgh and dean of the School of Medicine, describes the relationship between UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. “There’s no way that either of us can operate without total symbiosis,” he says.

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh (University) enjoy a strong, collaborative relationship built on common objectives and organizational interdependency. While the two organizations are independent, nonprofit entities with different charters and unique missions, there is an extraordinary degree of synergy derived from their decades-long relationship that has propelled both UPMC and the University to leadership positions in their respective and related arenas.

The formal legal foundation for the relationship between UPMC and the University is four interrelated agreements; however, the mutual commitment to excellence in education, research, and clinical services that both sides share is rooted deeply in the history and philosophy of the two organizations.

As part of the relationship, UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP) provide financial support to the University in support of its academic mission. In fiscal year 2006, contributions by UPMC and UPP to the University amounted to approximately $170 million.
You can find the IRS Form 990 which TUHS files as an entity separate form Temple University here. The organizational chart for Hershey can be found here. Note that everyone reports to Graham, who reports to the board of trustees and that Penn State's chief lobbyist is on the chart and reports directly to Graham.

It is for this reason that when I reported on the state lobbying expenditures of the three major state-related universities for 2007, I didn't mention that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Temple University Health System filed separately from their respective universities while Penn State does not.

This does make a comparison amongst the three school's state lobbying expenses somewhat problematic. Perhaps the Collegian could go back and find out how much of Penn State's state lobbying money is used for lobbying for Hershey.

Next a couple corrections are in order.

The Collegian reports that Penn State,
spent $8,488 for transportation, lodging and hospitality payment or reimbursement for state senators and representatives, some of whom attended home football games.
However, that accounts for the itemized spending. The total spending on gifts, lodging, hospitality, or transportation was $71,897. Katherine did note this larger number, but didn't attempt to reconcile it with the smaller number.

The Collegian also reported that
Federal lobbying expenses for Penn State totaled fewer than $10,000 last year, according to the Senate Office of Public Records.
That's wrong. I haven't looked at Penn State's federal lobbying expenses for last year yet, because when I last checked they had only filed for their expenses for the first half of the year. But their expenses for the first half of the year were $100,000. Penn State's historical spending on federal lobbying can be found here.

While UPMC did spend $400,000 on federal lobbying last year, Pitt spent nothing. Temple spent , separately from TUHS, $170,000.

The federal lobbying expenses for the second half of the year are now available for Penn State. The self-lobbying expense reported by the University were less than $10,000. However, they used a private lobbyist, Gibbons & Co. in the second half of 2007 which cost $30,000. Hence Penn State spent at least $130,000 last year on federal lobbying.

Despite the sloppy reporting in the article I think it can serve as a starting point in a debate about the appropriate use of taxpayers money. In this regard, I fully agree with

Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit, non-partisan Pennsylvania public policy organization, said he believes universities should be independent from lobbying.

"We think that it is, in general, not a good practice for taxpayer-funded entities to spend taxpayer money to lobby for more taxpayer money," he said.

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