Funds bypass local politics

University employees should focus more fiscal effort on state politicians.

The University of Minnesota is a political powerhouse. For the 2008 election cycle, University employees gave almost $500,000 to candidates up and down the ballot across the country. This was enough to earn a spot in the top 1,000 sources of contributions nationwide. Unfortunately, of this massive cash flow, the overwhelming majority headed to candidates for federal offices that have little if any impact on the UniversityâÄôs funding and operations. A mere $14,000 âÄî less than 3 percent âÄî went to the Minnesota politicians who write the UniversityâÄôs checks. Under the current, highly imperfect campaign laws, donations provide occasion for personal interaction and an opportunity to change the perceptions of often skeptical legislators who question the worth of publicly funding higher education. Clearly, political cash wonâÄôt cure the stateâÄôs hemorrhaging budget or alter deeply held ideological dogma against state spending. However, building local political connections can bolster the UniversityâÄôs relative worth in an environment of scarce resources. At the University of Wisconsin, employees gave almost 16 percent of campaign contributions âÄî more than six times that of Minnesota âÄî to state officials. Perhaps not surprisingly, Wisconsin students currently pay $2,000 less per year in tuition than Minnesota students. While the school administration may often prove aloof and lackluster in lobbying the Legislature for funds, dedicated and passionate faculty and staff are the best ambassadors the University has. Employees who are already giving money to candidates should increase attention to state politics. For this land grant university, thatâÄôs the arena that counts.