U’s nonprofits seek new lobbying strategies

Coralie Carlson

Melanie Evans
Political analysts advised University officials to scrap their original plans for the state Legislature in January and draw up new strategies to pry $1.28 billion from the state’s coffers.
University President Mark Yudof isn’t the only one sweating the Capitol’s new mix: a Reform Party governor, Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate.
Leaders of local nonprofit groups flocked to a strategy forum in St. Paul on Friday and quizzed politicians and experts about how to play their cards.
The University has many nonprofit organizations, but rather than pull for separate agendas, the University’s nonprofits stack their support behind the school’s monstrous budget request.
A nonprofit organization is a corporation created to serve the public. Governed by a board of directors, shareholders and owners receive no profits. Charities, labor groups, fraternal organizations, veterans associations and chambers of commerce are common nonprofit corporations.
Officials from the University’s three biggest nonprofit groups — the Alumni Association, Minnesota Medical Foundation and the University Foundation — said they’re mobilizing troops to capture the University’s share of the state’s budget.
Les Heen from the Alumni Association said it corrals support with newsletters alerting alumni about key legislators, issues and dates.
No one knows where Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura will eventually throw his support, said Wy Spano, political analyst for Politics in Minnesota, a local monthly magazine.
Two things are certain, he added: First, any funding request that boosts state spending won’t fly under Ventura’s leadership.
Spano’s other certainty is that officials at the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will submit inflated budget requests in January.
The two could clash in the upcoming legislative session, he said.
The Legislature could either fund the University’s request by taking money from other initiatives, or they could trim the University’s request.
State Sen. Steve Kelly, DFL-Hopkins, said he’s positive the three-party mix at the Capitol will have a chilling effect on ambitious programs with big budgets — especially those that could cost the state.
“Any new idea that involves a tax increase is not a good idea,” he said. “Some of us will have to go back to the drawing board.”
Kelly’s advice for the University: Find a new approach. Both the University and the state schools will need to work hard to promote their cases for increased state funding, he said.
University officials are banking on coordinated networks of alumni to do just that.
The Minnesota Medical Foundation oversees the endowments for the University’s medical schools. With a $200 million budget, the foundation supports scholarships, endowments and faculty and student research grants.
Declining state assistance for University tuition or state research grants could tap higher education nonprofits affiliated with the University.
“Private support is not used to pay the light bills,” said Dan Saftig, vice president for marketing and communications for the medical foundation.
Saftig estimates that one year of medical school costs $30,000 because of escalating tuition and living costs.
“That’s money that is hard to come by,” said Saftig. The foundation cannot support students all alone; help from the state is needed.
The foundation will support the University’s budget request, which includes $37 million for medical education, by galvanizing alumni to get involved.
The alumni action follows the advice of Sarah Janecek, a political analyst and editor for Politics in Minnesota magazine. She said access to sympathetic legislators and patience will be the keys to survival for the state’s nonprofits and the issues they covet.