Annual K Street College Classic bracket features biggest federal lobbying spenders in higher education • OpenSecrets

A Wilson basketball during the Auburn Tigers practice session ahead of the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Legacy Arena on March 15, 2023 in Birmingham, Ala. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The 2023 NCAA March Madness tournament officially tips off today, and OpenSecrets’ annual K Street College Classic bracket shows which schools would win each round based on their federal lobbying spending in 2022.

Federal lobbyists raked in a combined $12.6 million in 2022 from the 68 colleges and universities — including those that played in the First Four round on Tuesday and Wednesday — competing in this year’s NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. Some of the top teams in this year’s tournament are also top seeds in OpenSecrets’ K Street College Classic bracket, although a few underdogs pulled off stunning upsets to make a run for the title.

The 2023 K Street College Classic champion is Texas A&M University, quashing the competition with the $940,000 it spent to lobby the federal government last year. This is almost a 30% increase from the school’s 2021 spending, and it’s the most the institution has spent on lobbying since 2013 in raw numbers.

Texas A&M also boasted one of the biggest federal lobbying benches, working with 16 lobbyists last year. Nine of these were “revolving door” hires, meaning they held federal government positions in the past.

The Aggies’ $780,000 lobbying expenditure includes seven in-house lobbyists. Two were revolving door hires, including Dustin Bryant, an alumni and long-time employee of Texas A&M who was also a field representative between 2005 and 2007 for former Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas). The former representative had a long career serving on the state’s education board, and later on the House Financial Services and Education committees. 

Camille Lepire, a more recent recruit of the university, previously worked on legislative issues under Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and former Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) until 2021. Both Republican representatives served on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Top issues targeted with Texas A&M’s lobbying efforts included the federal budget and appropriations, education, and science and technology. According to lobbying disclosures, the university closely monitored the Department of Defense Appropriations Act’s section on university research last year. This act included a provision to increase the federal budget to “develop, maintain, and equip the military forces and intelligence community of the United States.” Bills related to energy research and agriculture were also on the university’s lobbying radar.

The United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 was a bill that came up most frequently at Texas A&M’s lobbying disclosures in 2022. The legislation’s “CHIPS Act” section was closely monitored, according to lobbying disclosures. A modified version of the Innovation and Competition Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, was signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022 aiming to bolster domestic semiconductor capacity by investing roughly $280 billion to fund research and manufacturing.

Purdue University advanced to the final round of the K Street College Classic bracket, though its lobbying expenditures fell short by over $430,000 when compared to the tournament champion. The Midwestern university spent over $505,000 on federal lobbying in 2022, a 53% increase from the previous year and its highest lobbying expenditure nominally since 2012. 

Also among the March Madness tournament’s top seeds, Purdue’s federal lobbying efforts in 2022 targeted the federal budget and appropriations related to disbursement of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Science and technology related issues were also top on Purdue’s federal lobbying agenda, targeting the CHIPS and Science Act in multiple disclosures. 

Half of the eight lobbyists Purdue worked with in 2022 were revolving door hires who previously held positions with the federal government. Through its subsidiary, Trustees of Purdue University, the institution hired two “revolving door” lobbyists from the Deborah Hohlt firm, accounting for $360,000 of the university’s lobbying expenditures. One of the registered lobbyists was the eponymous firm’s President Deborah Hohlt, who serves as Purdue’s federal relations representative and held a federal government position in the 1990s. The other, Anna Bartlett, was a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Education until 2021.

March Madness underdogs make K Street College Classic semifinals

Though an underdog on the court, March Madness No. 61 seed Princeton University made it all the way to the semifinal of the K Street College Classic. The university spent $430,000 lobbying the federal government in 2022, a 7.5% increase from its 2021’s lobbying total of $400,000, which was an 11% from the $360,000 it spent on lobbying in 2020. 

Princeton employed three in-house lobbyists last year, including two former government employees.

“The past roles of the University’s staff in Washington have provided them with insight about the legislative process and how Members’ and committee offices operate,” Princeton’s Director of Media Relations Michael Hotchkiss wrote in an email to OpenSecrets. 

The Tigers reported lobbying on 39 bills last year, including the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, which would have created a “conditional permanent resident” for “DREAMers,” protecting immigrants who grew up in the U.S. from deportation. The university advocates for a path to citizenship and “sensible immigration policies to ensure that the U.S. can attract and retain the best and brightest students, scholars, and faculty members from around the world,” according to Hotchkiss.

The bill did not pass and was reintroduced in the 118th Congress last month. 

Princeton also lobbied on several education-related bills. The College Transparency Act would have required the National Center for Education Statistics to develop a secure data system for tracking student enrollment patterns, demographics and outcomes. Princeton was joined by other universities in lobbying on the bill, as well as the Association of American Universities, which publicly supported it. 

Heartbreak hoops

Several top-seeded teams fell short in the K Street College Classic bracket this year. Lobbying totals for universities in the University of California and North Carolina University took a hit since two teams from each system made the tournament, meaning none could claim lobbying spending by these massive university systems under OpenSecrets’ very official bracket rules. 

The University of Alabama and the University of Houston are projected to face off in the national championship in this year’s March Madness tournament, but neither school made it to the Sweet Sixteen when it comes to 2022 federal lobbying spending.

Both UCLA and the University of California-Santa Barbara qualified for the March Madness tournament this year. That means neither school received credit for the nearly $1.5 million the university system spent on federal lobbying in 2022. 

UCLA, which clinched the K Street College Classic championship title last year thanks to the University of California system’s robust lobbying operation, didn’t make it past the first round in the 2023 bracket. It’s another heartbreaker for the UCLA basketball team heading into March Madness with player injuries that could hinder their chances of winning the Big Dance.

But the University of California’s bench of federal lobbyists runs deep. Of the 12 lobbyists registered on behalf of the university system, five are “revolving door” lobbyists who previously worked in the federal government. Several registered lobbyists for the University of California boast experience working with House and Senate Appropriations Committees and Defense subcommittees — relevant committees working on issues the university reported lobbying on most in 2022, namely, appropriations and research funding in the annual defense appropriations bill.

Appropriations and defense issues are among the most lobbied issues reported on federal lobbying disclosures for all K Street College Classic teams. Federal lobbyists for these universities and colleges also routinely reported lobbying on — surprise — education, as well as science and technology. 

Since two schools in the University of North Carolina university system made it to the tournament, direct lobbying by the UNC system is also excluded from the K Street College Classic bracket. UNC-Asheville, one of the two UNC schools with teams competing in the tournament, did not report any direct spending on federal lobbying last year while North Carolina State University reported spending $170,000 on federal lobbying. 

The UNC university system spent $620,000 on lobbying last year with a focus on issues related to appropriations, veterans affairs, education, science and technology. The UNC system employed four lobbyists last year, three in-house and all previously employed by the federal government. 

Senior Researcher Dan Auble, Web Content Manager Hector Rivera and Editorial and Investigations Manager Anna Massoglia contributed to this report.

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