Throwback: Taxes Flow to Federal Lobbyists
The Nerve arose from the swamp — well, wetlands — of South Carolina Politics seven years ago this month. For this week’s Throwback, we decided to go all the way back, to January of 2010, when we were just a wee swamp thing. That’s when we brought you the morsel below, about state and local government entities spending money (that would be your money) to lobby the federal government.
In a way, that makes sense, and is certainly justifiable, but there’s another way in which government taxing people and then giving that money to a lobbying firm in order for the firm to ask government to give more money to government makes a lot less sense than, oh, those huge stone coins on Yap.
State and local government agencies spent at least several million in tax dollars last year to court U.S. senators, congressmen and other federal officials in Washington.
And the returns are questionable in some cases.
The federal lobbying tab through September for more than two dozen cities, towns, counties, colleges, universities, local- or state-created agencies, regional public utilities and public-private partnerships was nearly $2 million, The Nerve found in an analysis of the U.S. Senate and House lobbying databases.
Fourth-quarter filings are due Jan. 20, so the total amount spent for 2009 will be even higher.
Through the third quarter, Clemson University was the top spender at $367,432, followed by the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency, an organization of 10 municipal electric utilities in the Upstate, which spent $230,000.
The Myrtle Beach International Airport and state-owned Santee Cooper tied for third through the third quarter, each spending $140,000, followed by the University of South Carolina at $120,000, records show.
Most of the agencies relied on outside lobbying firms, though Clemson used both in-house staff and outside firms, while Santee Cooper relied solely on its own staff, according to disclosure reports.
In Clemson’s reports, the university said it contacted Congress and federal agency officials on a variety of issues, including stimulus funding, recent agriculture legislation and other topics such as a biofuel test plant, “veterinary services development,” water resources research and “warfighting capabilities.”
Clemson spokeswoman Robin Denny told The Nerve in a written response that besides the biofuel plant, the university has been lobbying in Washington for funding for its International Center for Automotive Research and the Center for Advanced Materials, which she noted have “created hundreds of jobs in our state.”
“Effective federal relations have always been a priority for Clemson, but it became even more important this year because of state budget cuts and new initiatives such as the federal stimulus bill,” she said.
Denny said the university’s federal lobbying expenses might appear high compared to other universities’ reported amounts because, “in the interest of transparency and full disclosure,” Clemson includes such things as travel expenses of faculty members who accompany its lobbyist.
Santee Cooper spokeswoman Laura Varn said her agency reports all federal lobbying expenses and staff time doing analysis on potential legislation. She told The Nerve that historically, the agency has not asked for federal tax dollars for specific projects.
Instead, she said, “Our efforts are focused on communicating to our federal delegation the impact their proposed legislation could have in the way of costs to our customers.”
Santee Cooper in its reports indicated it has lobbied Congress so far this year on climate change legislation and nuclear production tax credits.
Another state-created agency, the S.C. Research Authority, spent $72,500 through the third quarter on lobbying for “defense research and development,” though its reports didn’t give specifics. The agency didn’t respond to a written request by The Nerve seeking details.
USC’s lobbyists in their reports said they met with federal lawmakers to discuss issues related to environmental, health and defense research; prosecutor training; and funding for economic development and “next generation energy projects.”
In a written response to The Nerve, USC spokeswoman Margaret Lamb said federal lobbying has brought big returns to the university and the community.
“The federal government is the largest source of student financial aid and among the largest for research funding, both of which have a significant impact on our university, and subsequently, our local economy,” she said.
Lamb noted that research funding for USC hit a record $210 million in 2008-09. She also contended that an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice for the expansion of the National Advocacy Center and the Darla Moore School of Business will bring about 250 “high-paying jobs” to the Midlands.
Along those lines, the public-private partnership known as EngenuitySC, whose stated goal is to encourage entrepreneurship for “knowledge-based” companies in the Columbia area, spent at least $30,000 last year to lobby Washington officials on economic development issues, though its disclosure reports didn’t list any specific projects.
USC and the city of Columbia are sponsors of the organization, which was created in 2003. Mayor Bob Coble serves as its chairman; USC president Harris Pastides is the co-chairman.
An integral part of EngenuitySC is Innovista, described on Engenuity’s Web site as a $250 million investment that “combines a fast-paced research environment and a vibrant, urban lifestyle” within a short walk of the downtown USC campus.
But although the university has spent $100 million to build two buildings on the research campus, the project hasn’t yet attracted any significant private investment.