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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

U. Massachusetts fails to disclose lobbying activity details

Massachusetts Daily Collegian (U. Massachusetts)

(U-WIRE) The University of Massachusetts is among 20 universities and academic institutions that didn’t respond to a senator’s request for the disclosure of lobbying activities related to congressional earmarks.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, requested details about all appropriations including the purpose and cost of each project and its accomplishments since 2000. Coburn, chairman of the Senate Federal Financial Management subcommittee, plans to publish an analysis of his inquiries in a report at the end of September, including “grading universities for incomplete responses, or refusals to provide complete responses to questions,” according to a news release.

As the Federal budget deficit grows, fiscal conservatives like Coburn place increasing scrutiny upon items that are put into appropriations bills, like the infamous “bridge to nowhere” linking Ketchikan and Gravina, Alaska. In academic research, these earmarks can help to bypass regular channels for funding that require competitive reviews and evaluations.

“In a time of war and mounting fiscal challenges, taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent. In these difficult times, Congress, in particular, has a responsibility to conduct aggressive oversight of all areas of the federal budget, which is why my subcommittee has held 45 oversight hearings since 2005,” Coburn said in a news release issued on Sept. 12.

A growing budget deficit isn’t the only force supporting Coburn’s call for greater government transparency. In January 2006, Jack Abramoff, a prominent Washington, D.C., lobbyist, pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion. Abramoff’s plea and his close ties to many prominent politicians led to the disgrace of a number of public officials, including Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and also led to increased scrutiny of the lobbying industry’s role in shaping legislation.

Much of the information that Coburn requested is already publicly available because of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, which requires financial disclosure for nonprofits, and the public nature of the federal budget.

According to publicly available records from the United States Senate, UMass spent approximately $280,000 on lobbyists during 2005 with fees going to the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm Campbell-Crane & Associates Inc. and Bradford Penney, a Virginia-based lobbyist and lawyer. In addition to employing full-time firms, Associate Chancellor James Leheny has served as a part-time lobbyist on behalf of the University. UMass received approximately $21.9 million in federal appropriations in 2005, according to UMass budget figures. Since the University was not subpoenaed, it is under no legal obligation to respond to Coburn’s request.