Back in January, I reported on the efforts of local universities to secure federal funding. In particular, the story focused on earmarks — grants to a specific organization or local government body written by a member of Congress into the language of often-unrelated bills.

As the story pointed out, nearly one in 10 earmarked dollars go to universities.

University of California, San Diego and the entire UC system maintain that they pursue earmarks only when these don’t threaten other peer-reviewed and competitive research grants. Every earmark request, university officials told me in January, has to be approved by Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

So I asked them about this disclosure (the second page is here) filed with the federal government by a Virginia firm that claims it was hired to do lobbying work for UCSD. In the section describing its work, the firm, DiNovo Strategies Inc., said it was hired to lobby for: “Funding for Middle East Regional academic programs and other offerings by the University and its affiliates.”

The language was very similar to that used by lobbyists hired to secure federal earmarks, though the university denied that Dinovo had been hired to get federal money.

Here is what university spokeswoman Dolores Davies said in an e-mail at the time:

Apparently, the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) is the entity that retained Jay Footlik of DiNovo Strategies. Footlik, who is a participant in IGCC’s Middle East dialogues, was hired to help disseminate the results of the discussions to the Washington D.C. policy community and to engage in private fundraising for the program. …

In addition to this outreach, Footlik was also asked to explore new possibilities for private funding of the program. This long-established and highly respected IGCC program was founded by UCLA Political Science Professor Steven Spiegel, and continues to be led by him. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and by private foundations and individuals. …

At any rate, Mr. Footlik was retained primarily for his ability to disseminate substantive information about the dialogue discussions to the policy community and was not retained to go after any particular “pot of money.”

In response to a January public records request, the university recently turned over to voiceofsandiego.org a copy of the DiNovo Strategies contract — along with word that the firm has been fired.

First, here is how the contract describes the scope of the project:

Dinovo Strategies, LLC (sic) will lias with the federal government, including the US Congress, DoD, and other departments and agencies to meet IGCC’s objectives for continued funding support and for expansion of the ongoing work on the Burkle Center Multilateral Middle East Program/Track Two meetings.

However, Davies maintains that the firm was never hired to lobby for federal funding.

“Only in special and somewhat unusual circumstances do we hire outside lobbyists,” she told me today. “This was not one of those circumstances.”

Here is what she had to say about the termination:

(University officials) have cancelled the contract, and they made the determination to do that because they were surprised and unhappy that the contractor, the DiNovo Strategies, registered as a lobbyist. Because they were not hired as a lobbyist.

Under the contract, which was originally set to expire next month, the firm was supposed to get paid a total $24,000. According to invoices turned over by the university, UCSD had already paid more than $18,000 by the time the contract was cancelled. The invoices show that the DiNovo Strategies was charging the university $100 per hour for work that included lunching with federal officials and congressional staffers.

Records maintained by the Virginia State Corporation Commission also show that the firm did not file its incorporation papers until late November of 2006 — or more than five months after it was hired by UCSD. Davies said this was news to the university.

Footlik, listed as the company’s principal, did not return messages left on his cell and office phones. He also did not respond to requests for comment submitted via e-mail and fax.

VLADIMIR KOGAN

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