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Purdue University to slash government lobbying

Cuts arrive as school seeks to skirt tuition increases

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Purdue University — among the strongest lobbying forces in higher education — will soon slash its government affairs efforts in Washington, D.C., two federal lobbyists familiar with the decision tell the Center for Public Integrity.

The decision, confirmed to the Center by a Purdue official, will involve terminating its contract with a large outside lobbying firm and shrinking the budget of its office in Capitol Hill.

The school's D.C.-based in-house lobbyist, Director of Federal Relations Lisa Arafune Pickett, is also leaving the university.

"Yes, we are downsizing our effort," said Chris Sigurdson, the university's assistant vice president of external relations. "We're looking to save money, and we're looking for ways to keep Purdue more affordable." 

Sigurdson said he did not know precisely how much money the university would save by shrinking its lobbying efforts, but he described the cuts as "considerable" and "in progress."

FaegreBD Consulting, which along with its predecessor firms have lobbied for Purdue since the 1990s, will no longer represent the university, Sigurdson said.

Purdue has yet to file a formal lobbying termination report with the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, congressional records indicate. A  representative from FaefreBD Consulting could not be reached for comment. 

Deborah Hohlt, a D.C.-based lobbyist whose recent clients have included Indiana's state government and Indiana University Health, Inc., will lobby on Purdue's behalf on a contractual basis, Sigurdson said.

Since 2003, Purdue has spent at least $400,000 annually on federal-level lobbying efforts and more than $800,000 in both 2007 and 2008, according to disclosure documents filed with the U.S. Senate.

Last year, the school spent $525,000 to lobby the federal government on a range of issues, from science and agriculture to budgetary matters and transportation, according to federal data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Such spending consistently ranks it ahead of all but a handful of American universities in terms of annual federal lobbying spending. 

Purdue's lobbying reductions hit as university President Mitch Daniels, Indiana's former governor, this week eliminated merit raises for senior administrators and other top officials. Daniels also this month vowed to freeze student tuition for two years.

Asked if Daniels' own political acumen reduced Purdue's need for a professional lobbying force, Sigurdson said the university made "an informed decision."

Daniels, who Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney reportedly considered as a vice presidential running mate, became the school's president in January. As the director of the Office of Management and Budget for President George W. Bush, Daniels earned the nickname "The Blade" for his aggressive proposals to trim the federal budget.

In a letter the university released Monday, Daniels detailed foreshadowed more budget cuts for Purdue.

"Over the next weeks and months, we will assess current practices and expenditures across all central university units," he wrote. "We should all be asking each other questions like: What are we doing that once made sense but no longer does? What are we doing in multiple places that could be done less expensively in one? Most important, what are we doing that does not in any clear and meaningful sense further our core missions: teaching, research, engagement and affordable access?"

Daniels himself earns a base salary of $420,000, although performance incentives detailed in his contract could cause that to increase.