Simons’ Saturday Column: KU’s legislative lobbying effort lacks clout, continuity

May 25, 2013


The headline states, “KU changing lobbying strategy in middle of state budget fight.”

The story said Kansas University officials have decided to change their lobbying tactics with members of the Kansas Legislature by putting long-time contract lobbyist Kathy Damron, figuratively speaking, out to pasture and reassigning her to focus on outreach with “key stakeholders and community leaders across Kansas on behalf of the university.”

Replacing Damron to sell state lawmakers on the values of KU is Riley Scott who has his own firm, Scott Consulting LLC. He will work with Mandy Miller, a Damron company employee.

It’s interesting to note that Scott had worked for Gov. Sam Brownback when he served in Congress and was deputy chief of staff and state director for U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. He also is the son-in-law of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle.

It’s obvious KU officials are pulling out all of the stops and using all their connections to get as good a deal as possible from state lawmakers currently engaged in a tough debate concerning the state budget and how much money will be appropriated for higher education.

In recent years, there has been a revolving door on lobbying efforts by the university. Not too many years ago, these efforts in Topeka were handled by Jon Josserand and Marlin Rein, both KU employees.

These two men stepped aside when KU officials in Strong Hall created the position of executive vice chancellor for university relations. The job initially was filled by Janet Murguia, a former aide to President Clinton who now leads the National Council of La Raza Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization; and then Paul Carttar, a former COO of the Kauffman Foundation, who later served in a number of positions, including director of the Social Innovation Fund for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Damron stepped in to oversee the lobbying efforts, and after both Murguia and Carttar left KU, the lobbying efforts were left in the hands of Damron’s company.

During this KU merry-go-round of lobbyists, Kansas State University has enjoyed the excellent and effective services of Sue Peterson, who has been on the job at KSU since 1989. According to numerous Topeka legislators and even some members of the Kansas Board of Regents, Peterson, a one-person operation and a KSU employee, has “run circles around the KU effort even though they have more individuals carrying out their lobbying efforts.”

Why hasn’t KU been more effective in telling the KU story in Topeka? Is it the fault of the lobbyists or could it be partially due to the messages and/or leadership they are receiving from the chancellor’s office compared with the messages and support Peterson receives from her president’s office?

Or could it be that a “contract lobbyist” does not have the feel, the close and personal connections with the university and its employees that a full-time university employee enjoys? Or could it be the Douglas County legislative delegation does not have the clout and respect it deserves?

As one lobbyist points out, “Anyone, lobbyist or otherwise, who is serving as a representative of the university in dealing with legislators, or the public, has to tell it like it is if they are to merit the respect of legislators. He or she has to have a strong, positive story to tell.”

Peterson has been telling and selling the Kansas State story for more than 20 years. KU, on the other hand, now is relying on three “hired guns” to tell its story. Who are lawmakers more likely to respect?

The news story about the change in KU’s lobbying personnel said Damron would focus on outreach “with key stakeholders and community leaders across Kansas.” Apparently, someone in the chancellor’s office doesn’t believe the KU Alumni Association, with its thousands of loyal members throughout the state, or the KU Endowment Association, with its thousands of loyal Kansas supporters who have contributed many millions of dollars to help the university, are getting the job done in telling the KU story and need the help of contract lobbyists.

Whatever the cause or reason, KU needs help. Also, it should be noted, KU is not represented in majority party leadership positions in the Kansas Legislature or in the governor’s office as it once was.

Unfortunately, KU is not the powerhouse within the state that it had been. How long will this situation be allowed to continue?


WilburM 4 years, 10 months ago

Kathy Damron, over the past few years, has performed well for the University. She could talk to most everyone, and certainly "got" the University, in a way that, say, Murgia never did. But with the elections of 2010 and 2012, Damron found a far less receptive audience under the capitol dome. But she was steadfast in representing the University's interest. But what of Mr. Scott? Who does he represent? Does he really know about or care about KU? Given his background, I have severe doubts.

Rocketscientist 4 years, 10 months ago

Could it be that the constant criticisms of KU by this newspaper are hurting the University? It's a stark contrast to the newspapers in other regents communities, where editors help promote the local universities. Despite such negative newspaper support, the lobbying efforts at KU have gained the university hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments. Expansions in pharmacy, engineering and cancer were all achieved thanks to actions by the legislature with KU driving the efforts.

Bruce Bertsch 4 years, 10 months ago

Looks like Dolph is wanting to be Chancellor again. In reality, the only way to get close to the members of this legislature is to agree with them and ask for more cuts. That is all they want to hear. Higher education to most of them seems to mean folks smoking more weed while going to school.

Chuck Woodling 4 years, 10 months ago

As far as lobbying qualifications, which is more important — the fact Riley Scott is a Lawrence High graduate, that he's a Kansas State graduate or he is Susan Wagle's son-in-law?

Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 10 months ago

"Conflict of Interest","Cronyism"," Nepotism" All are words the Kansas Legislature Knows very well, Lives by and has no problem with.

Hardhawk1 4 years, 10 months ago

Damron has done a great job for KU. In a legislature that seems hell bent to whack KU financially, her efforts have helped reduce the proposed hit from 4% or more to 1.5%. She has a far better understanding and appreciation of KU than the shirttail relative of Susan Wagle. More importantly, she believes in KU's mission and goals, which cannot be said for Scott. KU is despised by a number of legislators now in Topeka as a liberal elite institution located in the most liberal county in the state whose own legislators, while good people, have been reduced to spectators of the process. Hiring a shill who has ties to the far right and does not believe in what his client is doing will result in throwing money away. This is yet another dumb move by KU and will cost it dearly in the long run. Other groups have decided to hire new lobbyists with right wing connections but who don't believe in or support the mission of their clients. Those efforts have failed miserably. Ask the judges association how that move has worked out for them! If your lobbyist does not believe in you and your mission, then that lobbyist just comes off like a prostitute. This blunder will come back and bite KU, and the injury will be 100% self inflicted.

GovJunkie 4 years, 10 months ago

Once again Mr. Simons shows his true colors... And none of which are crimson & blue. His statements in this editorial are at best ignorant of the facts. KU has accomplished much in the past decade with its lobbying team, not the least of which is obtaining funding for the KU Cancer Center leading to NCI designation on its first review. Tell us in your next column, please Mr. Simons exactly what the lobbyist for KSU and that institution has done to enhance and advance higher education in Kansas? If you were paying any attention during the past decade, you would have seen that just about every time KU brought forth a major legislative initiative, other Regents institutions came forth and said, "What do we get?" rather than developing their own proposals, funding, support and etc. KU is the state's premier higher education institution and its lobbying efforts have been an integral part of that in spite of the Legislature's waning support for higher education and willingness to play favorites with its universities based upon which ones genuflect to the right.

Bob_Keeshan 4 years, 10 months ago

K-State's excellent serviceshave resulted in a devastating cut to K-State extension http://www.k-state.edu/today/announcement.php?id=8863&category=legislative_update

I don't see that in this column. Weird.

K-State's biggest legislative "victories" the past few sessions -- expanded engineering funding and commitment to animal health -- were both only possible because of KU's engineering initiative and KU's quest for NCI designation. In both cases, K-State found itself begging for "me too!" funding..

I don't see that in this column, either. Double weird.

Perhaps Dolph would prefer a lobbyist who has been too busy running in circles. It would certainly fit in with his weekly rants.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

Maybe KU's lobbying efforts are not up to snuff. However, they start in a hole because of the tea-colored glasses of the Kansas legislature.

KSU = good ole boys KU = snobby intellectuals

The proof is in the pudding. As stated nicely by the Captain above, KU is still driving the agenda in the state and KSU is hovering and waiting for the efflux.

As far as I can tell, KSU's lobbying efforts consist chiefly of keeping their heads down and off the radar of the legislature. KU was once this way as well, but has recently changed and has become more aggressive in promoting a growth agenda.

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

What good is lobbying if there is no money? Dolph, you don't want to pay taxes, but you want KU to lobby for money? You rich people want your cake and to eat it too.

Joe Monaco 4 years, 10 months ago

It’s hard to understand Mr. Simons’ assertion that KU hasn’t been effective in Topeka with Kathy Damron as the university’s lobbyist. In reality, Kathy has played a central role in KU’s most notable successes, all of which required Legislative support. In recent years, those successes include:

These initiatives all represent successes for KU and for the Kansas citizens and companies who benefit from them. And these initiatives are even more impressive when you consider they were approved during a decade-long trend of disinvestment in higher education by the state legislature.

What’s baffling is that Mr. Simons continues to appear entirely unaware of these successes, despite them being reported on repeatedly in his own newspaper. Unfortunately, this continues a pattern that we’ve come to expect on Saturday mornings.

It’s also worth noting that KU will do a restructuring of its government affairs efforts during the next 6-9 months – something we’d have gladly shared with Mr. Simons had he bothered to pick up the phone and ask “someone in the chancellor’s office.” Again, this is part of a larger pattern.

Scott Tichenor 4 years, 10 months ago

“run circles around the KU effort even though they have more individuals carrying out their lobbying efforts.”


K-State spends more money on the political campaigns of the key legislators making decisions. It's about that and nothing more.

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