SG lobbyist represents the interests of SG pres in Tallahassee

Carter Roush

In April 2013, SG created the Office of Governmental Affairs to cater to state officials and act as the voice of Fassi in Tallahassee. Matt Brockelman, former UNF SG president, was chosen as the Director of the Office of Governmental Affairs and became a full-time paid lobbyist for SG. The office is not related to UNF’s Office of Governmental Affairs, run by Vice President Janet Owen, which lobbies directly for the university and the Board of Trustees, of which Fassi is also a member.

Lobbyist Matt Brockelman (left) with former roommate and UNF Student Body President Carlo Fassi (right).Photo courtesy Facebook
Lobbyist Matt Brockelman (left) with former roommate and UNF Student Body President Carlo Fassi (right).
Photo courtesy Facebook

UNF’s Office of Governmental Affairs appeals to the interests of the university and its staff, along with approval from the Board of Trustees, Owen said. SG’s Office of Governmental Affairs (OGA) is designed to appeal to state legislators who hold the power to approve and fund SG’s proposals. Fassi chose to create this position instead of hiring a firm because he wanted a lobbyist that only represented SG’s interests and not be occupied with other clients.

“Carlo [Fassi] deals with the student body issues on campus, [whereas] he sends me to meet with legislators in our region and in Tallahassee,” Brockelman said. Since Brockelman has held this position, he’s visited Tallahassee eight times to lobby for SG’s initiatives. Some of those initiatives include Hard Hats for Higher Ed., which pertains to gaining $9 million in funds for renovating buildings three and four, Fassi said. Another initiative includes a bill which would make it easier for honorably discharged veterans to apply for in-state tuition, Brockelman said.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D) of Florida’s 9th Congressional District.Photo courtesy myfloridahouse.gov
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D) of Florida’s 9th Congressional District.
Photo courtesy myfloridahouse.gov

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D) of Florida’s 9th Congressional District feels that as long as the lobbyist is honest and well informed of the issues, she would consider hearing them out. Rehwinkel Vasilinda is a member of the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

If UNF’s Student Government consulted with a professional lobby firm about congressional issues it would also present credibility, Rehwinkel Vasilinda said. “I like to hear from students too, who are on student government. Frankly, I think that’s very important. I think this ought to be something students have a stake in. If this is a lobbyist for SG, I would like to hear from a member of Student Government,” said Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

During his travels for SG, Brockelman has accumulated $1,617.03 in reimbursable expenses, which SG repays Brockelman, and $3,972.04 in non-reimbursable expenses. Aside from working together in SG, Brockelman and Fassi also have a personal relationship. The two were roommates for several years before Fassi created the office, Fassi said.

There were no other candidates considered to be reviewed for the position when the office was created, Fassi said. Brockelman’s experience as a public communications officer for Mayor Brown’s office for a year, along with his previous work for SG, made him the most effective for the job, Fassi said. “There’s not anything saying that we’re required to review other candidates,” said Ryan Traher, Director of Communications.

Other OGAs for universities around Florida advocate for similar issues as Brockelman has done for UNF. Stefano Cavallaro, the director of governmental affairs at Florida State University, said he also considers gaining in-state tuition for student veterans as a main priority for his university.

Cavallaro is a third-year student at FSU who was appointed to the SG Office of Governmental Affairs for the 2013-14 school year. He works 15 hours a week making $7.93 an hour, Florida’s current minimum wage. Cavallaro is able to earn up to $4,000 for his term in office.

Brockelman’s position was created to appeal to the interests of SG, but the UNF and SG Office of Governmental Affairs lobby for some of the same issues. This includes the initiative to gain funding for academic buildings on campus, which Brockelman and Owen work together to achieve. While Owen and Brockelman may work on the same issues, their focus relies on what their departments interests lie at the time, Fassi said. Although Fassi is a member of the Board of Trustees, Owen said she does not lobby for an individual member, but as a collective group.

So far, none of the bills Brockelman has lobbied for on behalf of Student Government have been voted into Florida’s legislature. While the points Brockelman lobbies relate to UNF’s ideals, they are decided on by SG. More specifically, they are approved by President Carlo Fassi. When Brockelman is in Tallahassee he represents the student body president, Fassi said.

“Student Government decides the issues, which by the legal definition means Fassi, since he’s the CEO,” Brockelman said. Brockelman is currently earning $26.33 an hour, working 40 hours a week and 48 weeks out of the year, for an annual salary of $50,553.60. His salary and expenses derive from SG’s executive budget, which comes from the Activity and Service Fee that students pay for in their tuition.

Brockelman’s salary is similar to the cost of hiring an outside lobbying firm. At the University of South Florida, the Board of Trustees pay $50,000 to lobbying firm Corcoran & Johnston for their lobbying contract with USF’s Student Government that lasts from Sept. 1, 2013, to Aug. 31, 2014. The University of Florida currently has two lobbying firms on contract. Capital City Consulting, LLC, is paid $55,000 annually by UF to lobby to state legislatures. Cardenas Partners, LLC, receives $18,000 for lobbying UF’s initiatives at a federal level.

The final outcome of Brockelman and Owen’s lobbying in Tallahassee will be known at the end of the legislative session on May 2, 2014.