The Ann Arbor News ran a large story this past Sunday about EMU’s (still relatively new) president John Fallon starting up a Political Action Committee; a version of the story appears on the mlive web site, “EMU seeks more help in Lansing.”Here’s the opening paragraphs:
Eastern Michigan University wants to win more friends and influence more people in the increasingly competitive world of Lansing politics, where the payoff for good relationships can be increased state aid or funding for building renovations.
This fall, as part of new President John Fallon’s plan to develop more clout in Lansing, the university formed its first-ever political action committee, called “Friends of EMU.” The PAC will give money or participate in fundraisers with legislators whom they view as supportive of EMU’s interests.
State political insiders say EMU is a latecomer to what has been a long-established practice that receives little public attention – public universities unabashedly raising private money to give to legislators who are in position to approve projects and policies in line with the universities’ needs and goals.
Fallon has apparently been making a lot of trips to Lansing to try and get more money for EMU, an issue he seems to understand better than the last three or so EMU presidents. Part of the problem, as the story talks about, is that the Michigan legislature instituted term limits a few years back, and that really changed the power balance. For example, back in the day, EMU had a major booster in a guy named Gary Owen, who was the Michigan Speaker of the House (and is the namesake of the College of Business building, too). But these people are all gone, which means that each state university has to hustle for itself a bit more, and EMU hasn’t done that.
The cost to EMU for this lack of “direct” political action has been pretty apparent, actually. EMU hasn’t had a “capital oultay money” (e.g., a building on campus or some other major project) since 1996, which I believe was the library. That ain’t good. The PAC is tiny right now and someone is quoted in the article as saying that university PACs don’t have that much influence because there isn’t much money there (compared to, say, the wine and beer distributors PAC). And you could make a compelling argument that state universities shouldn’t have to have PACs like this in the first place. But in situations like this, I think there are some political realities that require something like this.
One thing not in the article: I might be wrong about this, but EMU used to have a Vice President who was supposed to be doing this sort of thing. This person doesn’t work here anymore.