The website OpenSecrets.org used the NCAA basketball tournament to highlight the amount of money colleges and universities spend on lobbying in Washington.
The winner of its fifth annual "K Street Classic" is the University of California, which spent $740,000 on lobbying in 2012, easily defeating runner-up University of Pittsburgh at $540,000.
Although the University of Illinois spent $510,000 on lobbying last year, it was matched up against its real NCAA second-round opponent, the University of Colorado, which spent $527,033. So the UI was eliminated immediately even though its lobbying expenses were among the highest in the tournament, and among all college and universities.
In fact, according to OpenSecrets.org, there were only about a dozen universities that spent more in Washington last year than the UI. Among those were Texas A&M ($1.56 million), Boston University ($1 million), the University of Texas ($785,000), Northwestern ($581,000), Yale ($540,000), Purdue ($535,000) and the University of Washington ($520,000) — schools without men's basketball teams in this year's NCAA tournament.
Illinois tied with Harvard at $510,000.
Other Big Ten universities' lobbying expenses last year include Indiana ($470,000), Penn State ($440,000), Michigan State ($340,000), Wisconsin ($310,000), Iowa ($295,051), Minnesota ($290,000), Michigan ($260,000), Ohio State ($230,000) and Nebraska ($180,000).
UI officials say the investment in lobbying is worth it, even though Illinois has a congressional delegation with two senators and 18 House members.
"There's no question that we have Illinois congressmen looking out for us, just as I'm sure every other Big Ten institution and our peers do as well," said UI spokesman Tom Hardy. "But I think this reflects a couple of things. We're not in the era of earmarks anymore ... so the ground is a little different in Congress now. And it's a highly competitive market for winning these kinds of research grants."
Hardy said the UI decided in 2010 to open an office in Washington with a full- and part-time lobbyist. That's when its annual federal lobbying expenses soared from around $125,000 a year to more than $500,000.
"They're spending time out there not just for the Urbana campus but for all three campuses," he said. "We've also got a major health care system in Chicago that they represent, so there's a lot of work to be done."
The Urbana campus is No. 1 nationally for National Science Foundation funding, Hardy said, and the Chicago campus gets a "substantial" amount from the National Institutes of Health.
"We're also getting money from the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture. We have chancellors and provosts and the president himself going out there to meet with members of Congress and agency people and people within the Obama administration," he said. "This office helps facilitate a lot of that."
UI President Robert Easter, in testimony last week before an Illinois Senate committee, said that federal grants and contracts to the university "have increased by 84 percent over the last 10 years, and in fiscal 2012 we had nearly $811 million in sponsored, competitively awarded projects."
That sum, according to Easter, was the highest ever for the UI and the seventh highest in the nation.
"This is money to the Illinois economy that would go elsewhere if not for our world-class faculty and staff researchers," he said.
The federal funding is now more than the state university receives in general funding from the state government (about $630 million). General state funding has dropped $182 million in the last 10 years, Easter said.
The UI spent $480,000 on its Washington lobbying operation last year, including paying lobbyists Jonathan Pyatt and Terry McLennand, according to federal disclosure reports. The remaining $30,000, according to reports, was spent with the Bockorny Group Inc., a Washington-based lobbying firm.
Incidentally, the Bockorny Group's lobbyists include Scott Shearer, a Villa Grove native who 37 years ago ran for the Illinois House seat that Tim Johnson was elected to. After serving in the Legislature for 24 years, Johnson was elected to Congress in 2000, where his and Shearer's paths crossed again.
In 1976, Shearer finished fourth in the 52nd House District race that featured the election of Reps. Helen Satterthwaite, Johnson and the late Virgil Wikoff. The district included Champaign, Douglas and Vermilion counties.
According to disclosure reports, the Bokorny Group was hired to lobby Congress on last year's farm bill proposals, S. 3240, and H.R. 6083.
Wealthy Winnetka investment banker Bruce Rauner formed his exploratory committee — aimed at a Republican Party run for governor next year — on Feb. 28.
He already has collected at least $560,000 in large ($1,000 or more) campaign contributions, according to campaign disclosure reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
He doesn't have as much campaign money as state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, another Republican looking at running for governor, but he's closing the gap quickly.
His most recent batch of campaign donations, filed Monday, totaled $267,600 and included money contributed over a six-day period. Of all that, only one was from downstate Illinois — $10,500 from Open Prairie Ventures in Effingham.
Open Prairie Ventures is a venture-capital firm founded by Jim Schultz, who also is chairman of Rauner's exploratory campaign committee. Four years ago, Schultz gave $1,500 to the campaign of Bill Brady, then the Republican candidate for governor. Brady is considering running again in 2014.
Rauner's list of contributions includes dozens of donations of $5,300. For now, that is the limit for an individual's contribution to a statewide candidate.
But as soon as one of the candidates for the office, or family members, contribute or loan $250,000 or more to the campaign, all contribution limits in that race are lifted. It's a foregone conclusion that Rauner will put at least $250,000 of his own money into the race, although he hasn't done so yet.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, will be available next week to meet with local constituents in Rantoul and Tuscola.
Shimkus, whose new 15th Congressional District was moved northward to cover parts of Champaign County and all of Edgar, Douglas and Vermilion counties, will be at the Rantoul Village Hall, 333 S. Tanner St., from 3:30 to 5 p.m. April 3 and in the county board room of the Douglas County Courthouse in Tuscola, 401 S. Center St., from 9:30 to 11 a.m. April 4.
Those interested in scheduling an appointment to meet with Shimkus should call 446-0664. Appointments are not necessary but are helpful in keeping wait times to a minimum, according to the congressman's office.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum will host a conference on the legacy of the late Otto Kerner, who 50 years ago was governor of Illinois and later served as a federal judge but wound up in federal prison in a racetrack-bribery scandal.
The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. April 13 at the Lincoln Presidential Library, 112 N. Sixth St., Springfield. Tickets are $50 and include lunch. Political experts, journalists and former Kerner aides are expected at the conference.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or email@example.com.