The University of Wisconsin System ranked nationally for money spent on lobbying last year, with UW-Madison accounting for a majority portion of the spending.
The UW System was ranked 27th out of all universities and colleges in the country, spending $460,000 in 2009, the most it has spent on lobbying in a decade, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
UW-Madison spent $350,000 in 2009, with the remaining funds being spent by UW-Milwaukee and other colleges and universities in the system.
The State University of New York ranked the highest in federal lobbying money in the country in 2009, at $1,490,000.
The UW System has spent a total of $2,730,00 in the last decade, of which UW-Madison has spent $1,440,000.
The amount of money the UW System has spent in the last decade for lobbying has increased steadily from $120,000 in 2000 to $460,000 in 2009.
Rhonda Norsetter of UW Federal Relations said UW uses the money to lobby at a federal level primarily for student aid and research.
The amount of money spent on lobbying increased, Norsetter said, because in 2009 the definition of what constitutes lobbying changed to include costs beyond visits, such as travel expenses.
No new people were hired when the definition changed and the lobbying money increased, Norsetter said.
She said it is important for UW to have a presence in Washington to make sure the university is competitive for student aid and research funding.
“Whatever we spend and the work we do generates significant funding and important policies,” Norsetter said.
The lobbying work pays off for the university, according to Norsetter, who said UW received $566 million from the federal government between 2008-09.
Norsetter said UW does not hire any outside firms to lobby for the university, adding many other schools do.
Norsetter is listed as the lobbyist for UW, however, both the UW System and UW-Milwaukee hire firms for lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The amount of lobbying money spent is a “bargain” when looking at other Big 10 schools and considering that UW is one of the best research universities in the country, Norsetter said.
UW is the approximate median for lobbying dollars spent by Big 10 schools. The Big 10 school with the most lobbying money spent in 2009 was Purdue at $685,000.
Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, speculated lobbying money could be on the rise in 2009 because it was a state budget year.
Berry said UW lobbying at the state level might not just be for more money.
“[Universities are] lobbying for smaller cuts. That has been the reality. [It] has more to do with budget competition in the political sense,” Berry said.
It has become the case, Berry said, that government authorities are placing a higher priority on health care and K-12 education than higher education, and other public institutions, including UW, which sees their funding slashed as a result of these priority decisions.
According to Berry, less than 20 percent of UW’s budget comes from state funds. This number has plateaued or even decreased from what has been given in the past.