By Caroline Simon
Penn spends over a million dollars each year trying to influence legislation on the state, local and national level — and that’s almost twice as much as any of its peer institutions.
It’s common for large research universities to invest funds in lobbying, but Penn spends far more on lobbying than other Ivy League university. According to a report from Open The Books, a database of government spending 29.6 percent of the $17.8 million the Ivies spent on lobbying from 2010-2014 could be traced back to Penn.
That’s almost twice as high as Columbia University, the school which spent the next highest amount on lobbying. Columbia was responsible for just 17 percent of Ivy lobbying expenses, followed by Yale University at 15 percent and Cornell University at 13 percent.
So where is all that money going?
In a statement on its Form 990, a tax form the University submits every year that requires disclosure of political activity, Penn described its dependence on government money to continue its operations and how it lobbies to maintain that support over time.
"The University, a private non-profit educational institution, receives direct annual non-preferred appropriations from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," the statement read in 2012, 2013 and 2014. "The amount and continuation of these appropriations are not guaranteed. Therefore, the University maintains an office of commonwealth relations in order to support, justify and coordinate these appropriation requests before the state Education Department, other appropriate agencies of the Executive Branch and the General Assembly. "
Penn’s lobbying expenses are also in part driven by its massive health system, which frequently lobbies for health care-related legislation.
While Penn’s Office of Government and Community Affairs employs its own lobbyists, the hospital system and medical school employ external firms such as Van Scoyoc Associates in 2016 and Clark Hill PLC in 2017, according to opensecrets.org.
Many of the health care-related issues Penn and its hospital system lobby for are obscure, though other issues Penn lobbies for affect students far more directly
After President Donald Trump announced his controversial travel ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, Penn President Amy Gutmann denounced the executive order. In a statement, she promised that, "We will do everything in our power, speak to every friend and ally and leave no stone unturned in our efforts to urge President Trump to change course and rectify the horrible damage this order has caused."
According to a lobbying disclosure report from the first quarter of 2017, Penn listed "impact of travel bans and immigration policy on higher education" as one of the issues they lobbied for.
Penn has also lobbied for increased funding to the National Institute of Health and continued funding to the National Science Foundation. It has made its voice heard in debates over appropriations that affect the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has been a target for proposed budget cuts under President Trump.
In multiple reports from 2016, Penn listed "education policy" as a lobbying issue — and has listed the federal work study program and Title IV, which prohibits "discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance," on its disclosure forms.
Because the Lobbying Disclosure Forms, which are publicly available on opensecrets.com, only require that Penn lists lobbying issues, it is difficult to determine what position Penn actually took on certain issues.
For example, Penn listed "IRS Regulations on Taxing Foreign Students" as a lobbying issue, but it is unclear what exactly Penn’s interests were in that particular debate.
Some of Penn’s recent lobbying issues have been quite specific — in 2016, Penn listed "support for Department of Energy for Large Synoptic Survey Telescope."
University lobbyists have also waded into more controversial issues. Penn has listed the Affordable Care Act — which both President Trump and congressional Republicans have vehemently opposed — as a lobbying issue, as well as the potential repeal and replace of the ACA.
In an email, Dawn Maglicco Deitch, the executive director OGCA, said that "our team is actively implementing comprehensive advocacy strategies with federal, state and city representatives. I’m not able to provide comments at this time."
Deitch did not respond to followup questions about specific lobbying issues and Penn’s positions on them.