BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University has spent more than $2 million in the past dozen years on Springfield lobbyists, according to a published report. But SIU president Glenn Poshard says it's a necessary expense for a billion-dollar operation to keep up with legislative developments.
Poshard told the Belleville News-Democrat in a story published Monday that lobbyists are necessary to keep track of the thousands of pieces of legislation that go before lawmakers in the Capitol each year.
"It's probably hard for the public to understand, but it's like anything else: We have to keep the Legislature alerted to the bills that are passing through and how they affect us," Poshard said. "If we don't do that and we miss a very important bill that adversely affects our university, I'm to blame for that."
The newspaper reported SIU -- with campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville, and medical and dental schools -- spent just under $2.2 million since 2000, even though SIU has an Office of Governmental and Public Affairs in Springfield. Poshard, a former state senator and U.S. congressman, said the employee in that office is not a lobbyist, but has duties ranging from government relations to coordinating with the lobbyists.
SIU is a $900 million-a-year "enterprise" and its staff often testifies on bills as early as when they appear for consideration in legislative committees, Poshard said.
"We're certainly not at liberty to be in Springfield every day, to contact 40 or 50 legislators, or a committee that might be hearing a bill at any given time," he said.
While lawmakers whose districts include the school's campuses look out for SIU, they have other issues to follow, Poshard said. Lobbying cost SIU an average of $100,000 a year in 2011 and 2012.
Poshard said lobbyists are responsible for getting $1 million for cancer research and $1 million for corn-to-ethanol research at the Edwardsville campus which had been cut.
The News-Democrat has reported that local government bodies in the suburban St. Louis area of Illinois have spent $2.7 million since 2002 lobbying other levels of government.
Educators say it's important to have someone devoted to the school's interests.
Belleville-based Southwestern Illinois Community College has spent $390,000 on lobbyists since early 2006. The school's president is Georgia Costello, wife of a former congressman and mother of state Rep. Jerry Costello II, a Democrat from Smithton.
Madison County Regional School Superintendent Bob Daiber, a Democrat, is the only regional schools chief in Illinois to have a lobbyist, the newspaper reported. But Daiber said $12,000 a year in lobbyist expenses has translated into $2 million in funding.