Despite financial crisis, Chicago State University pays lobbyists, Madigan spokesman hundreds of thousands
Chicago State University spent more than $200,000 lobbying Springfield politicians, while deteriorating finances caused it to lay off hundreds of employees, including professors.
Amid financial woes that have forced hundreds of layoffs, Chicago State University has been dishing out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Springfield lobbyists – including House Speaker Mike Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown – in efforts to influence legislative leaders.
With more than $20 million appropriated for CSU’s Board of Trustees in the Senate’s new budget proposal, it may have had an effect.
The Chicago Tribune reported Jan. 23 that CSU has spent more than $200,000 on lobbyists, with the most, $180,000, going to the lobbying firm of former Democratic state Sen. James DeLeo. Another $18,000 went to Brown, who has several contracts outside of his work for Madigan. Brown isn’t a state employee and instead works on a contractual basis, which allows him to take several jobs in addition to acting as Madigan’s spokesman. The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2015 that Brown was on track to make $196,000 from Madigan and nine other clients that year, including CSU.
The other eight were:
- Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor
- The Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County
- Northwest Municipal Conference
- Alternative Schools Network
- New Start Inc.
- The Community Healthcare Association of Illinois
- The Illinois Council of Community College Presidents
- Special Education Services
Brown told the Sun-Times that he turns down clients when he thinks they are approaching him to influence the General Assembly. Brown, though, does provide legislative consulting services or updates to some of those groups and multiple have received state funding.
A CSU spokeswoman told the Tribune that lobbyists are crucial to ensuring the university “has a voice in representation” in government decisions, citing lobbyists’ help in obtaining funding in the past. But while CSU clearly needs to address its finances, the solutions needed are deeper than simply acquiring more state funding. Instead of spending thousands on high-priced Springfield lobbyists, the university should look at its own administration first.
At $3,600 per student, CSU had the highest administrator costs in Illinois in 2016. That was nearly 80 percent higher than the average $2,025 per student administrator cost across all Illinois colleges and universities. And a 2011 report from the Illinois auditor general found that the university has nearly one administrator for every faculty member – a ratio higher than any other public university in the state. The bloated administration not only drives up current payroll costs but also ends up costing the state millions when the administrators retire. The average career retiree in the State Universities’ Retirement System will make more than $2 million in total pension benefits over the course of retirement.
With retirement costs now consuming more than 50 percent of all state spending on higher education, CSU students, parents and faculty should demand serious reforms to put higher education on sound fiscal footing and to make it more affordable. Moving new university workers into 401(k)-style plans and enacting a constitutional amendment to allow Illinois to reform pension benefits for current workers would be a start. Doling out money to try to obtain favors from career politicians isn’t.